Saturday, July 25, 2009

Half Full or Half Empty?

Some say the glass is half-empty
Some say the glass of half-full
I say the waterline arrives at the half-way point
(I'll try to have a less lame post next week)

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

America's Got Talent?

I do not watch that much TV right now because we do not have cable, and so most of the TV that we watch is actually through our computer. Our Internet provides us with basic TV Channels. I have watched very little recently, but I have watched America's Got Talent, and I find the show somewhat objectionable because it was not planned to represent fairly all of those who participate in their show. I enjoy watching it because it shows people with talents, but it is put together in a way that favors some acts over others, namely comedians and musicians.

The TV program, started in 2006, is an NBC production and spin off from Fox's American Idol, both created by Simon Cowell. It has not had the commercial success of American Idol, but has done very well. American Idol has averaged around 30 million viewers in the past three years just in its season finale, whereas America's Got Talent pulls in around 10 million viewers for its finale. America's Got Talent has also brought to the stage a number of highly skilled entertainers, and has made Susan Boyle a household name. The main difference between America's Got Talent, and American Idol is that American Idol limits its contestants to a specific age, and performers can only sing. America's Got Talent allows calls itself a talent show that whose contestants' talents include magicians, singers, dancers, gymnasts, and comedians. Both shows use a similar elimination system so that the competition can take place over a period of time, or a season series, instead of a one-event talent show night. This system works well for American Idol, because you are comparing apples to apples; however there are problems when you compare apples, to oranges, to bananas, and to every other fruit in the basket.

I am going to list the top 10 performers of the last three years and state what they did in their act, just to demonstrate what performers generally do well in the competition.


1. Neal E. Boyd - Singer 2. Eli Mattson - Singer 3. Nuttin' But Stringz - Music Group 4. Donald Braswell II - Singer 5. Queen Emily - Singer 6. Paul Salos - Impersonator 7. Kaitlyn Maher - Young Singer 8. Wright Kids - Young Musical Group 9. Jessica Price - Singer 10. Joseph Hall - Young Impersonator


1. Terry Fator - Ventriloquiest/Comedy/Singer 2. Cas Haley - Singer/Guitarist 3. Butterscotch - Beatboxer/singer 4. Julienne Irwin - Youth Singer 5. Jason Pritchett - Singer/Guitarist 6. The Glamazons - Choir 7. Robert Hatcher - Singer 8. Sideswipe - Martial Arts Group 9. Calypso Tumblers - Tumbling 10. Duttons - Music Group.


1. Bianca Ryan - Youth Singer 2. The Millers - Musical Group 3. All That - Clogging Ensemble 4. Taylor Ware - Youth Singer/Yodeler 5. Celtic Spring - Step Dancing/Fiddling 6. Realis - Acrobat Group 7. At Last - A Capella Group 8. Rappin' Granny - Rapper 9. The Passing Zone - Juggling 10. Quick Change - Magic

Red - Singer/Comedy, Blue - Other, Purple - Singer, but specialized enough to act more like an "other" act.

There they are. Those are all of the Top Ten Finalists on America's Got Talent. Tell me now, if you wanted to win America's Got Talent, what field would you work in? Music? Comedy? Tumbling? Magic? I hope it just hasn't occurred to me that Comedy and Music have made a complete sweep of the finalists, and a near sweep of the three top ten finalists. I will now list all of the acts that are not Music/Singer or Comedy-related.

2008 - no one really, but the closest will say is Number 10 - Joseph Hall

2007 - 8. Sideswipe - Martial Arts, 9. Calypso Tumblers - Tumbling

2006 - 3. All That - Clogging 4. Taylor Ware - Yodelling* 5. Celtic Spring - Step Dancing/Fiddling 6. Realis - Acrobat Group 9. The Passing Zone - Juggling 10. Quick Change - Magic

*(Yes she is a singer, but because yodelling is her showcase more so than her singing ability I don't mind putting her on this list or taking her off)

In the past two years two (or three) non comedy/music routines made it to the top 10. In 2006 the closest anyone got was number 3. All that, the Clogging Group. No one else really had much of a chance to win, not because of a question of talent, but because of the system.

America's Got Talent requires you to perform, come back, and perform again. If you do well, you perform, and then come back again. Whoever can come back and win until the others are eliminated is the winner. This system gives singers and comedians a distinct advantage. Imagine you are a singer, and you perform any given number. You then pass the round and have the chance to perform again. All you have to do is change up your song, and then you have a completely new act. A winning singer has to learn one new song and sing it well in order to win the competition. In comedy, the stage is not much different. With the right comedy writers you can write new jokes, and tell them the next week. However, this is NOT easily done for dancers, magicians, tumblers, and jugglers. A dancer must change songs, choreography, and then make it look different from the week before. After a couple months there is only so much you can do with the same kind of dance routine. The same goes with the other acts. How many times can you pull a bunny out of a hat and make people go "WOW," yet learning how to pull a bunny out of a hat takes years of developing. Sets and equipment take long periods of time to construct, so in a week by week competition these acts generally look more tiring, because people lose interest. I loved Taylor Ware, and thought that she was worthy enough to win a single competition. I incuded her on the list even though she is a singer, because her talent is so singular that it is really hard to replicate week after week. Coming up with a new yodel every week that will impress everyone all over again is nearly impossible.

This is why I feel there is an unlevel playing field in America's Got Talent in favor of comedians and musicians. Good luck to those with interesting or different acts. The grand prize for America's Got Talent is an opening act in Vegas. From my outlook there are going to be a lot of Musicians and Comedians performing at the Mirage.

Thursday, July 9, 2009


This is a picture of us picnicing on the fourth of July. We live in a beautiful garden area. This site was about a 15 minute walk from our house. I think we drove it in about 2 minutes though. We normally walk it, but we had a lot of things to carry.

Normally for the 4th of July you eat hamburgers and hotdogs. We ate bratwurst, because that is what you do in Wisconsin. Before the fireworks we also had hamburgers I wore a red t-shirt that says "Divided We Fail." I was given the t-shirt when I attended the viewing of the Obama/McCain attackfest they call debates. Divided We Fail is supposed to negatively demonstrate the importance of unity. That was my slightly cynical way of being patriotic during the 4th. The best part is that I almost completely matched Farina.

This is the turtle that we found as we were picnicing. I think this was a painted turtle. It looked pretty normal from on top, but underneath and around its head it was bright yellow and red.

There is a lot of wildlife here. Today we saw a heron that stood almost four feet tall. We were about 30 feet away from it. We also see wild turkeys around. It is also very common to see raccoons at night. If you look long enough, you will always find one. Other things we like looking for are possoms, swallows, goldfinches, chipmunks, hawks, vultures, owls, and other birds. We live next to the biggest community garden in Madison (maybe all of Wisconsin), so it is fun to walk and see what animals are eating our crops.

Friday, July 3, 2009

Italy and Africa

Many of you may know that my wife Farina is an African History student. She is working on her Masters, and after she finishes her Masters she may continue on to a PhD of she wants. Right now she is working on her Masters Thesis and she has hit a big bump. She is interested in French West Africa, specifically Benin, education, and the Yoruba language. Unfortunately, there is almost no work in the United States on the history of Yoruba education in Benin. So, after discussing the matter we decided that we ought to go to Africa this summer. I asked Farina if she wanted to go to Benin, and she said no. She said that she wanted to go to Senegal, because Dakar, Senegal used to be the de facto capital of the French Colonial Empire in West Africa. Because of this, many of Benin's best sources are actually found in Senegal.

We did research on how to get to Dakar, and realized that it was going to be a very expensive ticket. We then found extremely well-priced tickets to Palermo, Italy. I lived in Palermo for six months, and have always wanted to go back. I looked at tickets from Palermo to Dakar, and they were still pretty expensive. I then looked for tickets from Tunisia to Dakar, and they were really really cheap. So after doing the math, I found out that it would cost almost the same to fly to Palermo, take a ferry to Tunis, Tunisia, then take a plane to Dakar with a 24 hour layover in Casablanca, Morocco. We booked our tickets.

This August we will be out of the country, in Europe and Africa. Wish us well. We leave August 10, and get back August 31.


July 3rd, 2009

I decided that it was time that I started blogging. I am bad enough at keeping a journal, we'll see how long this will last. It is the 3rd of July, which means that tomorrow is a holiday. It is one of my favorite holidays. An effective holiday causes one to reflect on past events, or ideas that are out of the ordinary. Christmas, for example, is an effective holiday because it has the ability to grab peoples' attention and gear it towards ideas and events. The most important event, of course, is the birth of Jesus Christ.

The 4th of July is a great holiday because Americans all share in common a marvelous American Heritage (whether through lineage, or by naturalization or adoption). We all live in a wonderful country, with a wonderful and miraculous beginning. When I lived in Italy many Italians told me that America did not have any significant history, and that it only started a couple hundred years ago. Not wanting to discuss Native American history and its rich part in academia, I often smiled, and responded "It may be true that our written history only goes back five hundred years or so . . . but it is a great five hundred year history."

Happy 4th of July!