Sunday, December 31, 2017

Top Ten Most-Viewed Posts of 2017

In the English-speaking world, a common New Year's Eve tradition is the singing of "Auld Lang Syne," a 1788 Scots poem by Roberts Burns set to the music of a traditional folk song. Besides New Year's Eve, "Auld Lang Syne" is commonly played at events that mark an ending of some sort, such as funerals or graduations. On June 30, 1997, the day before Great Britain returned Hong Kong to China, "Auld Lang Syne" was famously played by the Royal Hong Kong Police Force to mark the departure of Chris Patten, Hong Kong's last British governor, from Government House, his official residence:


The basic idea of "Auld Lang Syne" is that, though time marches on and circumstances change, one should not forget old friendships. In that spirit, I would like to take a moment to thank all those who have visited this blog over the course of 2017 by sharing the top ten most-read blog posts for 2017. I hope that you've all enjoyed the content on this blog so far and will return for more cool stuff in 2018.

Special thanks in particular to Luis Felipe Utrera-Molina Gómez, for being the first (and so far only) person to comment on a blog post here ("Prophetic Words from 1978") and for extensively sharing that post, making it by far the most-read post on this blog. "Prophetic Words" is a post from early November. Nearly two months later, this blog is still receiving considerable traffic from a link to that post on the website of the Fundación Nacional Francisco Franco, a link that Luis Felipe is no doubt responsible for. Thank you again, Luis Felipe.

1. Prophetic Words from 1978 (November 8, 2017)

2. A Tribute to José Utrera Molina (September 10, 2017)

3. Montañas Nevadas (November 4, 2017)

4. Himno del Trabajo (September 2, 2017)

5. Towards a Democratic Falangism (August 22, 2017)

6. Recommended Reading, and Words of Wisdom (October 7, 2017)

7. Catalonia Has Always Been Part of Spain (November 6, 2017)

8. George Washington's Second, Third, Fourth, and Fifth Rules of Civility (October 14, 2017)

9. What's Going on in Catalonia, by Ramiro Ledesma Ramos (October 8, 2017)

10. Thoughts on the Situation in Catalonia (October 1, 2017)

Thursday, December 28, 2017

Woo Hoo!


The McLaughlin Group is returning to the airwaves! New episodes analyzing current events in today's tumultuous times will begin airing on January 7, 2018!!

Monday, December 25, 2017

Recommended Reading: Christmas Edition

"Every day is Christmas."  John Baptist Greco

I may not be Santa Claus, but I have loaded lots of goodies on my sleigh. (Apologies to Nat King Cole).


And now it's time for me to share them with you. So, here's my list of recommended readings on this Christmas Day, 2017   which, incidentally, is the first "White Christmas" in my part of the world in quite a few years. (Apologies to Bing Crosby).


Okay, okay. Enough corny references to Christmas songs. Without further ado, here are some Christmas-themed articles that are worth reading. We'll start with political articles, and work our way up to cartoon-related articles. 

Paul Craig Roberts makes a case for why Christmas is worth observing... even if you're a non-believer. Roberts publishes this article every year, so reading it has become a tradition of sorts for me. Yet each year, I find Paul Craig Roberts's Christmas column to be refreshing and increasingly relevant. I find it so compelling that I'm going to publish a few excerpts from it:

"The decorations and gifts of Christmas are one of our connections to a Christian culture that has held Western civilization together for 2,000 years.

"In our culture the individual counts. This permits an individual person to put his or her foot down, to take a stand on principle, to become a reformer and to take on injustice.

"This empowerment of the individual is unique to Western civilization. It has made the individual a citizen equal in rights to all other citizens, protected from tyrannical government by the rule of law and free speech. These achievements are the products of centuries of struggle, but they all flow from the teaching that God so values the individual's soul that he sent his son to die so we might live. By so elevating the individual, Christianity gave him a voice.

"Formerly only those with power had a voice. But in Western civilization people with integrity have a voice. So do people with a sense of justice, of honor, of duty, of fair play. Reformers can reform, investors can invest, and entrepreneurs can create commercial enterprises, new products and new occupations. [...]

"Power is the horse ridden by evil. In the 20th century the horse was ridden hard, and the 21st century shows an increase in pace. Millions of people were exterminated in the 20th century by National Socialists in Germany and by Soviet and Chinese communists simply because they were members of a race or class that had been demonized by intellectuals and political authority. In the beginning years of the 21st century, hundreds of thousands of Muslims in seven countries have been murdered and millions displaced in order to extend Washington's hegemony.

"Power that is secularized and cut free of civilizing traditions is not limited by moral and religious scruples. V. I. Lenin made this clear when he defined the meaning of his dictatorship as 'unlimited power, resting directly on force, not limited by anything.' Washington's drive for hegemony over US citizens and the rest of the world is based entirely on the exercise of force and is resurrecting unaccountable power."

Again, read the whole thing. It's so worth it.

Next on my list is this article by Matthias Leyrer. Leyrer argues for revitalizing the downtowns of US cities, asking customers to consider shopping at small downtown mom-and-pop stores rather than at big box retailers. He makes a convincing case that this would go a long way towards making Christmas great again. (Not that I don't think Christmas is great as it is, mind you. I just couldn't resist the temptation to paraphrase President Donald Trump's (in)famous campaign slogan).

What better way to end my list of recommended political readings and begin my list of cartoon-related readings than with an article that is both political and cartoon-related? In this article, Gracy Olmstead reflects on what the very difficult Christmas she endured last year and Dr. Seuss's How the Grinch Stole Christmas taught her about the true meaning of the season.

Before we move on to 100% happy articles, here's one last partly depressing article. Animator Mark Kausler shares a few of the Christmas cards legendary voice actress June Foray sent him over the years. As you may know, Foray passed away earlier this year at the age of 99. She was the voice of countless classic cartoon characters, including Granny from Looney Tunes (Warner Bros.), Rocky the Flying Squirrel from The Rocky and Bullwinkle Show (Jay Ward Productions), Jokey Smurf from the 1980s Smurfs animated series (Hanna-Barbera), and Cindy Lou Who from Chuck Jones's 1966 adaptation of Dr. Seuss's How the Grinch Stole Christmas (MGM).

And now for the 100% happy articles. First, my friend Joe Torcivia reviews Bugs Bunny's Christmas Funnies #1, a Dell comic book from 1950.

Finally, I invite you to check out some of my favorite Christmas-related posts from one of my favorite blogs: Don M. Yowp blog's on early Hanna-Barbera cartoons. Here's one from 2013. The neat thing about this one is that it includes links to Yowp's Christmas posts from 2010, 2011, and 2013. And here's Yowp's Christmas post from 2017, which includes links to his Christmas posts from 2014, 2015, and 2016.

Well, all these links should keep you happily entertained for the rest of the 2017-2018 Christmas season (which ends on January 6, 2018, in my book).

In closing, I wish each and every one of this blog's visitors a very Merry Christmas.                      

Tuesday, December 19, 2017

The Rise and Fall of Holy Land USA

If you've ever driven through The Center of the Universe (also known as Waterbury, Connecticut) on I-84, you've seen it. Indeed, it's distinctly visible from many points in the Brass City  even at night, as it's made of glass and has light bulbs inside it. I'm talking, of course, about the 52-foot cross on Pine Hill.


Photo by Holy Land Waterbury, USA, Inc. 

Although the cross you see above was erected in 2013, there has been a large cross on Pine Hill since the 1950s. The current cross replaced a stainless steel cross that had been erected in 2008: 


This stainless cross was erected in 2008. In 2013, it was taken down to make way for the new cross. At some point while it was lying on the ground, it was vandalized. (Jim Lo Scalzo / European Pressphoto Agency

In turn, the 2008 cross had replaced a 56-foot cross, which had been installed in 1968.


The 1968 cross. Photo © Francisco Jimenez

The 1968 cross was similar to the current cross, the main difference being that it was not as technologically sophisticated and therefore only lit up in yellow, in contrast to the current cross, which has been lit in a number of different colors since it was inaugurated.


The 1968 cross at night. Photo for the Hartford Courant by Stephen Dunn
Promotional material for Holy Land Waterbury, USA, Inc., showing the current cross lit in purple.
The current cross lit in green, as seen from St. Anne's Church in Waterbury, Connecticut.  Photo by shutterbroke, usa.

The 1968 cross replaced the original Waterbury cross, which was erected in 1956.


The 1956 cross. Photo belongs to Jennifer A. Bremer/Roadtripmemories.com

Over the course of the second half of the twentieth century and the early twenty-first century, the cross, in its various incarnations, became a well-known symbol of Waterbury. Believe it or not, pilots have been known to use the lighted cross to orient themselves during night flights. Less surprisingly, many people who have driven through Waterbury know this city primarily for the cross. What many people who visit and/or pass through the city may not realize, however, is that the famous lighted cross was for many years the centerpiece of Holy Land USA, a biblical theme park that attracted tens of thousands of visitors during its heyday.


Photo from RoadTripMemories
Photo from messynessychic.com.

Opened to the public in 1956, Holy Land USA was the brainchild of John Baptist Greco, a local Italian-American attorney who was a devout Roman Catholic. Besides the cross, Holy Land featured miniature representations of various Bible stories. Its miniature buildings — which Greco built from cinder blocks, old bathtubs, and other used and donated building materials — were designed to evoke places mentioned in the Bible, such as Bethlehem and Jerusalem. Passages from Scripture were carved into structures throughout the theme park. 

John Baptist Greco. Photo from Sometimes-Interesting.com

I was born in Portugal, but I grew up in Waterbury. You can imagine, then, that Holy Land USA and its wondrous cross was an important part of my childhood. For as long as I can remember, I have been obsessed with monuments and landmarks, and so Holy Land did not escape my notice and fascination. Indeed, I still vividly remember the 1968 cross. One of my happiest childhood memories is that of my parents taking me up that hill to see the cross up close. In addition to the cross, I was also thrilled to see what was left of Holy Land’s attractions. The miniature Biblical buildings reminded me of a Portuguese Christmas tradition: the display of Nativity scenes, or presépios, some of which can be quite elaborate, such as the one seen below:

This Nativity scene is actually Italian. Photo from adventureswithsarah.net.

Indeed, because of my interest in unusual monuments and buildings, when I was a child my mom made me a fairly elaborate presépio (though not quite as elaborate as the one seen above), which absolutely delighted me. 

Holy Land’s little buildings also reminded me of an American Christmas tradition: the Rankin/Bass Claymation Christmas specials, which feature charming puppet-like characters interacting in miniature villages.

Rudolph's Shiny New Year (1976)

The Little Drummer Boy (1968)

Santa Claus is Comin' to Town (1970)

You’ve noticed, no doubt, that I said what was left of Holy Land’s attractions. This is because by the time I was born, Holy Land USA had long been shuttered, abandoned, and allowed to slowly but surely deteriorate. In 1984, Greco closed Holy Land to the public. His intention was to renovate and expand the theme park. These plans, however, never came to fruition. In 1986, Greco passed away, leaving the park to an order of Catholic nuns. Greco also left the nuns millions of dollars with which to restore to park, but, unfortunately, the nuns’ financial advisor abruptly walked away from the project and took the money with him! As a result, while the nuns maintained an active convent on the site of Holy Land, they never reopened the park to the public, leaving it abandoned. Since then, the theme park’s attractions have largely fallen into ruins. In addition to normal wear and tear, repeated waves of vandalism also took their toll on the property. To look at recent pictures of Holy Land USA is to see the sad, slow downfall of one man’s vision. In my estimation, the current state of disrepair in which Holy Land attractions — and the Christian teachings inscribed on their walls — exist is a distressingly apt metaphor for the current state of Christianity in today’s society.  



Some attractions at Holy Land USA, during the park's heyday (left) and more recently (right). Photos from RoadTripMemories
   


Some recent pictures of Holy Land USA, taken from this Daily Mail article

Since the park’s closure in 1984, there have been several attempts to revive Holy Land, but none of these efforts have gotten very far. Most recently, Waterbury Mayor Neil O’Leary and car dealer Fritz Blasius purchased the property from the nuns in 2013. They installed the current illuminated cross and said they planned to restore the park and reopen it to the public. This effort, too, seems to have fallen by the wayside, as the park remains abandoned and officially closed to the public in 2017.

Whatever happens to Holy Land in the future, we can all pay tribute to John Greco’s little theme park this Christmas season by building a presépio and/or by enjoying classic Rankin/Bass Christmas specials. We would also do well to remember to keep the Christmas spirit alive throughout the year by consistently doing our best to treat others with kindness and generosity. As an inscription on Holy Land’s Nativity attraction used to read, “Every day is Christmas.” 

Photo from messynessychic.com

BONUS FEATURES: 

If you're interested in learning more about Holy Land USA, this article contains tons of information, including many links to additional readings. It's by far the most complete account of Holy Land that I know of. 

To see more pictures of Holy Land USA (both in its heyday and currently), see this article and this article

Saturday, December 16, 2017

Cara al Sol



Some things need no introduction, and “Cara al sol” is one of them (well, at least if you're a Francoist Spain buff like me). Dramatizing a Falangist soldier’s comforting parting words to his lover as he marches off to fight for country and social justice, this 1935 song is the anthem of Falangism, as well as a key symbol of Francoism. The music was composed by Juan Tallería and the lyrics were written by José Antonio Primo de Rivera himself. For a brief and interesting account (in Spanish) of how “Cara al sol” was created, click here

The following are the original lyrics in Spanish, followed by my own translation of the lyrics into English: 

Cara al sol con la camisa nueva
que tú bordaste en rojo ayer,
me hallará la muerte si me lleva
y no te vuelvo a ver.

Formaré junto a mis compañeros
que hacen guardia sobre los luceros,
impasible el ademán,
y están presentes en nuestro afán.

Si te dicen que caí,
me fui al puesto que tengo allí.

Volverán banderas victoriosas
al paso alegre de la paz
y traerán prendidas cinco rosas:
las flechas de mi haz.

Volverá a reír la primavera,
que por cielo, tierra y mar se espera.

Arriba escuadras a vencer
que en España empieza a amanecer.



"Cara al Sol," by Carlos Sáenz de Tejada

Facing the sun in the new shirt
that you embroidered in red yesterday, 
that’s how death will find me if it should take me 
and I never see you again. 

I will form together with my comrades
who stand guard over the stars, 
with a hard countenance.  
They are present in our effort. 

If you should hear that I fell, 
know that I went to my post up there. 

Victorious flags will return
marching to the joyous rhythm of peace; 
attached to them will be five roses: 
the arrows of my quiver.

Springtime will laugh again; 
In the air, in the land, and in the sea we await it. 

Arise, squadrons, to victory, 
for in Spain a new day begins to dawn! 

Special thanks to DeroVolk for the music video and to rumbos.net for the Spanish lyrics. 

Friday, December 8, 2017

How to Boost Your Productivity: Emulate Bill Hanna and Joe Barbera

Do you own your own business? 

Cosmo Spacely, Owners of Spacely Sprockets, Inc. on The Jetsons
Or do you work for someone else?

George Jetson, employee of Spacely Sprockets, Inc.  
Whether you work for yourself or are employed by someone else, you probably are constantly striving to boost your productivity. If you are a business owner, increased productivity means increased profits. If you are an employee, increased productivity means greater standing within the company, or, failing that, greater competitiveness in the job market.

If you would like to improve your productivity, you could do a lot worse than to emulate two legends of the animation industry: William Hanna and Joseph Barbera. 

Joe, Bill, and their main stars. From left to right: Yogi Bear, Joe Barbera, Scooby-Doo, Fred Flintstone, Bamm-Bamm Rubble, Pebbles Flintstone, Bill Hanna, George Jetson, and Huckleberry Hound 
As you may recall from this blog post, Hanna and Barbera started their own animation company after losing their jobs at MGM. The animation company they created — Hanna-Barbera Productions — is renowned for making television cartoons financially viable. They did so by adopting the limited animation method, which allowed them to produce the steady, ceaseless stream of cartoons that the demands of television required. In my estimation, Hanna and Barbera’s success in the field of television animation was due to four major factors: (1) they worked hard, (2) they knew how to manage their workload, (3) they made the most of the means they had at their disposal, and (4) they constantly broadened their horizons. By adopting (or perfecting) these four traits — hard work, managing your workload, making the most of what you have, and broadening your horizons — you too can take your productivity to the next level. 

There is no denying that Hanna, Barbera, and their staff worked themselves extremely hard in order to meet the grueling demands of TV. As Barbera once reflected, “In terms of work, what we are doing is impossible. At MGM, we turned out a total of 48 minutes of cartoon film a year. We now turn out more than that in a week. Recently one of our artists said to me, ‘Joe, do you realize how much work we’re doing here? I said, ‘Don’t tell me. I don’t want to think about it. I’m scared to death!’” Despite feeling overwhelmed at times, Barbera had confidence in his company’s ability to meet the demands the animation industry placed on it. On one occasion, Hanna-Barbera publicity director Sarah Baisley noticed Barbera looking very tired. Someone had just asked him for a favor, and he had promised to follow through. Baisley asked Barbera if he ever got tired of people asking him to do things for them. Barbera replied, “It’s okay. They’re only asking me because I can.” 


Hard work is crucial to success. Working like crazy in and of itself, though, won’t get you anywhere if there is no method to your madness. Hanna and Barbera were very lucky to have very different but complementary personality traits. Just as importantly, they recognized this fact and turned it to their advantage. Accordingly, each man ran his own half of the company more or less independently of the other. In 1988, Barbera explained, “We lean toward different areas of the business, so we each get to do what we like. I work on creating the ideas for the projects, and trying to sell those ideas in the various markets. Bill oversees the actual production in studios all over the world, which I would hate doing.” Evidently, a sense of humor also helped them cope with their workload. Musing on the division of labor between himself and his business partner, Barbera once noted, “When Bill’s out of town, I turn the light out behind his name on the studio sign, but he does the same thing to me when I’m gone so we stay even. I have to answer a question that has been asked a lot lately. How can two people work together for 50 years and not fight? We did fight the very first week, and we haven’t spoken since.” 


Beyond working hard and dividing their labor, Hanna and Barbera made the most of the means that were at their disposal. For example, they greatly valued their employees and consistently strove to make sure they were happy. One day, they made the mistake of installing time clocks at the studio. Jean Ann Wright, a former assistant animator at Hanna-Barbera, recalls that many animators were deeply offended. The next day, Hanna restored their goodwill with this humorous memo: “Joe and I do not know how it happened, but over the weekend some sneaky guy climbed over the fence and installed a bunch of time clocks in our studio. We want you to know that we have ordered them taken out, which will be pretty darn quick because we were pretty emphatic about it.”


Just as importantly, Bill and Joe made the most of limited animation. I think I made the drawbacks of limited animation pretty clear in my previous blog post on Hanna-Barbera. Suffice it to say here that limited animation is no match for the sheer beauty of the full animation that characterizes the movie theater cartoons of what is quite justifiably known as the Golden Age of Animation. Hanna and Barbera were the first to recognize this fact; limited animation was not a stylistic choice but rather a necessity of the tighter budgets and faster timetables of television. Hanna and Barbera knew that if their television cartoons were to prove successful, they could not rely heavily on the animation to seduce audiences. They needed something more. They needed rich voices and sophisticated humor. 




Accordingly, Bill and Joe recruited talented character actors such as Daws Butler and Don Messick to give distinctive, memorable voices to their characters. The talent of Daws Butler is best captured by the following anecdote, which is recounted in Daws Butler: Characters Actor, a biography of Butler by radio historian Ben Ohmert and voice actor Joe Bevilacqua. When Butler was auditioning for a role in Ruff and Reddy, Hanna-Barbera’s very first made-for-TV series, Barbera told him that he wanted Reddy the dog to have a Southern voice. In response, Butler spent 30 minutes mimicking the myriad dialects that existed in the South: “Well, North Carolina would sound like that and South Carolina would be a little slower, like that, and the Cracker, oh the Cracker voice down in Florida, the Everglades, and then if we go over into Atlanta...” Butler’s versatility earned him the role of Reddy — and, later on, the role of such legendary characters as Huckleberry Hound, Yogi Bear, or Mr. Jinks. 

In addition to excellent voice actors like Butler and Messick, two experienced writers  Mike Maltese and Warren Foster   helped Hanna-Barbera turn out high-quality cartoons even while working within the constraints of limited animation. During their many years writing for the Warner Bros. animation division, which was famous for producing Looney Tunes and Merrie Melodies movie theater cartoons, these two men proved themselves to be comedic geniuses. At Hanna-Barbera, Maltese and Foster contributed countless imaginative lines to TV cartoons. For instance, in one cartoon, Snagglepuss the pink mountain lion challenges a pirate to a game of cards: “How’s about a little game of poker? Damp Jacks wild. Gin rummy? Chemin de fer? Whist? Old Maid? Young Maid? Tiddlywinks? Potsy, maybe? (Whips out tennis racket). Tennis anyone? Or isn’t tennis your racket? Ya get it? Ya get it?” In another cartoon, Snagglepuss finds himself out west: “Ah! The west at last. With its spaces. Wide open, even. Its weeds that tumble. Its get-along-little-doggie. How picturesque. How calendar-artie!” When he accidentally shoots an outlaw, he tells a cheering crowd, “’Twas a mere nothin’. A paltry piddlin’ pittance of pistol practice, even.”




As you can see, puns and alliteration such as these played a major role in making Hanna-Barbera cartoons must-watch TV — and not only for kids. The adventures of Huckleberry Hound and Quick Draw McGraw were enthusiastically followed at many coffee houses. One official questionnaire given to Tucson, Arizona, police officers, included the question, “Do you watch Huckleberry Hound on television?” Huckleberry Hound was also very popular with college students. In 1960, The Huckleberry Hound Show was one of the top four most popular shows among Yale students. Even rocket scientists loved the blue hound. A team of scientists at the White Sands Proving Grounds in New Mexico asked their local TV station to air Huckleberry Hound at a later time of day because they were too busy working on missile projects during The Huckleberry Hound Show’s air time. Perhaps most surprisingly, an island in the Antarctic was named after Huckleberry Hound

The somewhat surprising popularity of Hanna-Barbera cartoons among adults led Hanna and Barbera to broaden their horizons. Beginning in 1960, Hanna-Barbera produced not only cartoons aimed at kids but also cartoon shows specifically targeted at adult audiences such as The Flintstones...






The Jetsons... 



and Jonny Quest. 


So, there you have it, folks. If you want to boost your productivity, follow the example of William Hanna and Joseph Barbera: work hard, manage your workload, make the most of the means you have at your disposal, and broaden your horizons. Who knows? Your next business idea may just become the biggest sensation since Huckleberry Hound.