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Today was one of those days where most of my time was spent on buses, travelling from place to place and from errand to errand. At one stop, a couple came on. The man was a burly, shaven-headed archetypical working class Londoner, aging, but clearly still vigorous, the kind you imagine working in some house that was being renewed, or drinking beers with his mates afterward. The woman was not so easy to categorize; there was a slightly dusty and bewildered look about her. Then I realized that, though she was perfectly decent in dress and hairdo, I could smell urine, and it became clear that she was in the last stages of senility. And at the same time I realized that the man was completely concerned with her, gently telling her exactly where to go and where to sit down, with a patient affection that did not suggest the least possibility of exasperation or tiredness, and which she followed without question. When the time came for them to get off, he asked the driver whether they could get out by the front where they had come in, and I guessed that it would have bewildered her not to go through exactly the same way she had done coming in. And he was taking care that she should not be bewildered even to that extent.

This man had seen his woman vanish in front of his eyes, till she was barely able to understand and incapable of changing a routine or of staying clean. And all the while, I thought, he had treated her with that affectionate, undemanding patience that I was seeing in that London bus. And what was there for him at the end? No earthly reward, that is for sure; nothing but continuous care for someone who could barely respond, and who demanded attention every second of the day; work without end and without the possibility of any positive result - work at preserving a dignity already lost, a personality already gone, a mind already dead. And from all I could see, he was doing it without the shadow of a complaint, let alone any suggestion that there was anything better for him to do.

When I see something wonderful, and it would take too much or be out of place to say how wonderful it is, I make a military salute. I saluted this couple (making sure nobody noticed) when they got off. Such things are the light of God in this world. It's not only that the human mind cannot accept that such heroism should have no reward, should be futile and ignored; that it practically demands to see a supernatural reward for people who live and die like that. It is that he act itself is a thundering denial of any materialist or cynical view of man. A man who lives like that, without the prospect of reward and with the constant reminder of what he will never in this world have again, is a man who testifies to the whole universe that his nature is something else and something more than to eat and drink and sleep.
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I have been a fan of Abba since Waterloo, OK? I've written a songfic on their EAGLE, I've used their texts to review other people's work, I quote their lyrics without even noticing. And still I am discovering masterpieces - and I mean MASTERPIECES - that I knew nothing of, a quarter-century after they parted ways.

This is quite simply one of the greatest pop songs ever composed. Its musical structure is well beyond the usual stanza-stanza-chorus-stanza; it is almost a small symphonic movement, with a gorgeously worked-up-to series of climaxes. Its arrangement is incredibly elegant and appropriate. And at the centre of it is one of the finest vocal performances I have heard this side of Edith Piaf; indeed, the Mighty Sparrow is one of the few singers I can think of who could have done this song justice. Agnetha rises to the challenge like a great, white, soaring bird; she has never sang better, and, for that matter, never looked lovelier. I don't know about you, but I can't take my eyes off her for the whole duration of the clip. Even the red pseudo-mediaeval tabard she wears turns out to be both elegant and devastatingly becoming, though nothing could sound sillier if you described it in cold prose. And her control and lyricism are incredible; she works up to every climax in a way that makes tears spring to one's eyes. If you want anyone to know why Abba were so popular, show them this clip.

But all of this would not be so tremendous if the lyrical conception were not so brilliant. The lyrics could almost stand alone by themselves and be a great poem. Bjorn and Benny were the most underrated songwriting partnership in the history of popular music, and this is one of the most sophisticated, meaning-heavy, intensely lyrical songs they ever composed. The central couplet, "Oh yes, I'm sure my life was well within its usual frame/ The day before you came" is as charged with drama as anything any poet ever wrote. I still consider the Beatles the greatest group in history, but in some ways this is a song that the Beatles could not have composed: its maturity, the abyss of experience and memories behind its intensely controlled surface, is something that belongs to a deeper maturity than the four boy geniuses from Liverpool ever developed as long as they were together.
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What follows is a special column written for The Paris News in Paris, Texas (theparisnews.com) that was widely forwarded by e-mail. It's written by former Paris News sports writer Greg Thompson, now director of corporate communications for Chick-fil-A.

Thompson reflects on the extraordinary life of retired football coach Gene Stallings' son, John Mark "Johnny" Stallings, who died Aug. 2 at Paris Regional Medical Center of a congenital heart condition related to Down syndrome. Gene Stallings and Sally Cook wrote a book in 1997 on the subject: "Another Season: A Coach's Story of Raising an Exceptional Son."


By Greg Thompson

All I ever really needed to know, I learned from Johnny Stallings.

You can go to the finest schools and get any advanced degree they offer. Or you can read all of the business and self-improvement books you want. But for a Ph.D. in true wisdom, take a look at the life of Johnny Stallings.

You may have never heard of Johnny. He had Down syndrome. When he was born, 46 years ago in Alabama, the doctors said he wouldn't live even a year or two because of a severe heart defect. Other well-meaning doctors advised his parents to put him in an institution. "In a year," they said, "you'll forget you ever had him."

But fortunately for all of us, Gene and Ruth Ann Stallings didn't take their advice. They chose to treat Johnny as a vital part of their family.

And we are all the better for it.

As his father advanced his football coaching career -- first at Alabama, then to Texas A&M, the Dallas Cowboys, Arizona Cardinals and finally to a national championship in 1992 at Alabama -- Johnny was an integral part of the team. To Johnny, the most important person was the trainer.

"Trainers take care of the players," he once said. "You can't win without trainers."

To the day he died, Johnny Stallings wore a massive, diamond-encrusted National Championship ring on his frail fingers, which were tinged a grayish blue from the lack of oxygen caused by his heart condition.

Johnny was front and center in that National Championship team photo. In fact, he was a part of every team his father coached, including the storied Dallas Cowboys. The players drew inspiration from him. When Johnny turned 40 years old, for example, his birthday party was attended by a Who's Who of former NFL stars.

Johnny had some accomplishments of his own. He was featured with his father on a popular national United Way TV commercial, has a playground named for him at the RISE center in Tuscaloosa, Ala., had the athletic training facility at Alabama named for him, and won a "Change the World" award from Abilene Christian University.

But perhaps the most important thing that Johnny Stallings accomplished is this: He taught us that it doesn't matter what awards you win, or what worldly accomplishments you achieve, it is how you live your life that matters most.

So what can we learn from Johnny Stallings?

• Every life matters.

The life of Johnny Stallings teaches us that God can use anyone, no matter how insignificant in society's eyes, to make an impact on others. Johnny had none of the things that you and I take for granted, but Johnny touched countless lives in ways none of us can even begin to imagine. Our materialistic, success-driven culture doesn't really know what to do with people like Johnny. Society certainly didn't know what to do with Johnny when he was born 46 years ago. But God did.

• See the good in everyone. "Be my friend."

When Johnny got to know you, you became his "friend." And he never forgot you. Despite being mentally disabled, Johnny never forgot a name or a face. Johnny literally saw no evil in people. Johnny had more friends in his short lifetime than any of us will ever enjoy.

• Walk openly, simply and humbly with God.

The Bible tells us, "And what does the Lord require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God." That describes the way Johnny lived. He could barely read or write, but Johnny Stallings prayed the sweetest prayers you ever heard. He didn't necessarily know the fine points of theology, but you could tell that he knew God. He walked with God, openly, simply and humbly. And everybody knew it, whether they acknowledged that God or not.

• Love unconditionally.

In Johnny's world, you didn't keep score or attach strings to love. He loved unconditionally, all of the time.

• Smile. Laugh. Hug.

The last time I saw Johnny, we brought him a T-shirt from Dreamland Barbecue in Tuscaloosa, one of his favorite places to eat. Johnny hugged us. He patted us. He smiled all of the time. Johnny was one of these people who always made everyone feel better just for having been around him. Who among us can say that about ourselves?

• Treasure every moment.

Johnny, of course, was supposed to be put away in an institution. Doctors told them Johnny wouldn't make it to age 4, and when he did, they then said he wouldn't live past 11 because of heart and lung issues common to people with Down syndrome. Then we always heard that Johnny wouldn't live past 16. And on and on. So with Johnny, you treasured every moment.

• Little victories are the ones that matter the most.

Everyone focuses on the championships, but with Johnny, you celebrated all of the little victories. Then, after a while, you realized that those are the ones that really matter the most.

• Trust God because He really does know best.

Despite being frail and disabled, Johnny Stallings wore a National Championship ring. Every member of that 1992 Alabama team will tell you of Johnny's impact on that team. Johnny Stallings literally changed the world and made everybody he met a better person -- if only for that moment.

Gene Stallings, a star football player, championship coach and tough enough to be one of Bear Bryant's legendary Junction Boys, probably used to dream of a son who would be an impact player, who would change the world, make a difference and someday maybe -- just maybe -- wear a National Championship ring.

"I prayed to God that he would change Johnny, but he changed me," Coach Stallings once said in a speech.

He added that if God offered him the choice of going back and having a "perfect" son without a disability or having Johnny, "I'd take Johnny every time."
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...ours are gorgeous, too.

Above: Novella Calligaris, the tiny sprite who demolished a number of chemically enhanced East German giantesses in Belgrade in 1973 to win an unforgettable world championship gold in the murderous 800 metre freestyle, at the time the toughest speciality in the games.
Below: Federica Pellegrini, the supermodel type who has just done the impossible by winning for the second time world championship golds in both the 400 and the 200 metres in Shanghai. Nobody had ever done that before, and it does not seem likely that anyone will again any time soon, unless of course Federica herself has a go next time.


Jun. 12th, 2011 10:00 pm
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As I write, I am watching the spectacular struggle for second place in the grand prix of canada between Michael Schumacher, Jensen Button and Mark Webber. WEbber and Button have the faster cars, but Schumacher is a genius and his recoveries have been incredible. It is some of the greatest racing, the greatest moments in any sports, I have ever seen.

edited in: Jensen Button won splendidly, taking the lead at the very last mimute. Schumacher only came fourth, but gave a performance that showed that with a better machine he'd have been back to his old ways. This is the best Formula One race I've seen in years.
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I just discovered Vashti Bunyan.
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One brunette and two blondes. Can anyone propose more? Two requirements: overwhelming beauty, not just pretty; and should be able to sing.

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Once upon a time there was an old sage who lived in Paris in a house so full of books that he had barely space to move; and he had read them all. He had written more than sixty books and altogether invented his own discipline, and when he was admitted to the highest academic institution in France, he was described as a "more than encyclopedic master" who wrote in a style worthy of Voltaire; and all of that was true.
Dumezil 1Dumezil 2
Dumezil 3

Read more... )
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Trine Michelsen

Older readers of this blog will remember a couple of entries about Trine Michelsen, Danish stripper, actress, and - to my mind - absolutely blinding beauty. I just learned that the bone cancer she had been suffering with the last seven years finally killed her early this year. I feel very sad and personally deprived. It is not very rational for me to feel so. If we had ever met, we would have had nothing to say to each other; our backgrounds and experiences, let alone our views of the world, were too distant; and my opinion is that, as is so often the case in our time, she wasted some very real talent in the wake of the misguided "sexual revolution". But she came as close to my ideal of beauty as any woman who ever lived; and beauty, while no merit, is nevertheless a treasure, precious, irreplaceable, a light in the world. I said a prayer for this tiny, tragic beauty - and may God have mercy on us all in the day of our deaths.
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And I hope I'm not shallow or obsessed. I can and do admire women of all shapes and sizes. Greatness and goodness are greatness and goodness under whatever shell. But when it turns out that the great swimming champion, world record breaker, gold and silver Olympic medallist, natural star with the crowd in the palm of her hald, full holder of that mysterious quality that you are either born with or not, that I call the "look-at-me", in short, that our Federica Pellegrini, is, on top of all these things, also a natural blonde and a complete babe....

Federica Pellegrini

...well, I'm hardly going to complain about it, am I?
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Trine Michelsen

A picture of Trine Michelsen, she who looks like the Silver Angel. I think beauty itself looks a bit kind of like this.
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In the late eighteenth century, Read more... )

"Mind must be harder, Heart must be keener,
Bravery be greater, As our strength lessens.
Here our lord Lies cut to pieces,
A good man brought down; If one so much
As thinks to leave this field, Let him howl for ever!"
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Some sports have, above and beyond the matter of winning or losing, certain and special kinds of achievement which can be quite unique; never, perhaps, to be held even by confirmed champions, and yet accessible, with a little bit of luck, to any player. They are lifetime achievements, whom the player is allowed - indeed, expected - to dine out on and bore his/her friends silly for the rest of his/her life: my hole-in-one, the hundred-pound salmon I landed, the time I took a world champion ten rounds and lost on points.

Not all sports have such achievements, which is why I am explaining the point. Now in baseball (and softball, which is its female version), the special achievement is the home run: to strike the ball so high and so hard that, by the time the opponents have recovered it, you have had the time to touch all three bases and score a full point (a run). If you are feeling particularly showy, you can do it at a canter or a walk, just to underline your confidence. Every child who knows baseball dreams of a home run.

A day or two ago, the Central Washington University ("Wildcats") softball team was playing Western Oregon University in Ellensburg, Wash., for a local league. The Wildcats were one game behind their opponents, with a chance to reach the playoffs. Western won the first game 8-1, extending its winning streak to 10 games. The Wildcats desperately needed the second game.

Western Oregon's 5-foot-2-inch right fielder came up to bat with two runners on base in the second inning. Sara Tucholsky's game was off to a rough start. A group of about eight guys sitting behind the right field fence had been heckling her. She tried to concentrate and ignore them. She took strike one. And then the senior did something she had never done before -- even in batting practice: shesmashed the next pitch over the center field fence for an apparent home run. With two players already on base, that was worth three points and an almost certain victory - not to mention shattering the Wildcats' hopes.

She started running. As she was about to touch first base, she looked up to watch the ball clear the fence and missed touching it with her foot (as the rules require). Six feet past the bag, she stopped abruptly to return and touch it. But something gave in her right knee, and she collapsed.

"I was in a lot of pain," she told the local newspaper. "Our first-base coach was telling me I had to crawl back to first base. 'I can't touch you,' she said, 'or you'll be out. I can't help you.' "

Tucholsky, to the horror of teammates and spectators, crawled through the dirt and the pain back to first.

Western coach Pam Knox rushed onto the field and talked to the umpires near the pitcher's mound. The umpires said Knox could place a substitute runner at first. Tucholsky would be credited with a single and two RBIs (points scored by others on her hit), but her home run would be erased.

At that point, Mallory Holtman stepped in. Mallory Holtman is the Wildcat's star player, and as a rule opponents are not happy when they see her. However, what she had to say stopped their breath: could they, the Wildcats, the opponents, help Tucholsky complete her home run?

The umpires scratched their heads and decided that they could think of no rule against it. And so began one of the most beautiful scenes in the history of sports. Mallory Holtman, the Wilcats' star, made a chairlift together with teammate Liz Wallace, picked up Tucholsky, and resumed the home-run walk, pausing at each base to allow Tucholsky to touch the bag with her uninjured leg.
the home run
"We started laughing when we touched second base," Holtman said. "I said, 'I wonder what this must look like to other people.' "

Holtman got her answer when they arrived at home plate. She looked up and saw the entire Western Oregon team in tears.

"My whole team was crying," Tucholsky said. "Everybody in the stands was crying. My coach was crying. It touched a lot of people."

Even the hecklers in right field quieted for a half-inning before resuming their tirade at the outfielder who replaced Tucholsky.

Western Oregon won 4-2, putting an end to Central Washington's playoff hopes. But as far as any one of us who values certain things is concerned, Central Washington had won a lot more than playoffs. And I hope that any time any of us feel cynical or angry at the human race, we can stop and remember two girls carrying another, in a different colour uniform, so that she could be certified the score she had deserved.
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Seventeen years ago, I was spending a holiday in Australia. One day, a group of youngish people came to stay at our hotel - and I tell you, the women among them looked like Hollywood had come calling, or Olympus had just emptied itself. What made it stranger was that they all were dressed cheaply and in quite spectacular bad taste. Inquiries showed that these were an air crew from a Czech airliner, having a day off. This explained the rotten clothing - Czechoslovakia, as it then was, was only just then struggling out of the overhang of Communism, which, among other things, had done sad things to people's taste in clothing. It did not explain the spectacular beauty of every single woman in the group.

Since then, observation has confirmed me in my belief that the most beautiful women in Europe are to be found in Bohemia and Moravia. Sure, that is also where Martina Navratilova comes from, but we'll chalk that up to an aberration. Some kind of genetic encounter between different stocks has produced long, tall, yet curvy bodies topped by frequently blonde heads with astonishingly regular features. If I ever have to move away from here, I think I would give the Czech Republic at least a look.

Now they have done the nearly impossible. As some of my friends know, I am a passionate lover of athletics, track and field. I have been following the world championships currently taking place in Osaka, Japan - of course. Now, in order to be any good at any of the throwing specialities - discus, shot, javelin, hammer - you have to be bulky, and I mean BULKY. Every extra gram of muscle helps. Germany, the Scandinavian countries, and Eastern Europe tend to produce most champions in these specialities, male and female, and I do not think it is unfair to say that if the females in this contingent ever achieve a happy family life, it is for reasons other than their looks.

Nevertheless, the Czech Republic have produced their first female javelin world champion - Barbora Spotakova. And while photos cannot render the sheer charm and beauty of her face in motion under the lights, I think they may help you believe that she really is beautiful - http://www.corny.cz/_clip/barbora-spotakova.jpg.
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I am not much of a believer in the innocence of children - I recall my childhood all too well - and I have a certain inborn resistance against sentimentality. There are, however, some pictures from time to time to which it would be inhuman not to soften. Yesterday, for instance, I was at mass. On the other side from me there was a large Indian family, father, mother and some children, of whom the smallest can hardly have been more than three. As the Eucharistic Prayer proceeded towards the Consecration, I saw her start doing a silent dance, turning and turning on herself, with a thoughtful expression on her face. A little girl of two or three, dancing alone by herself in the presence of God.
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...did not really say much that we did not already know or could not guess. But then, considering all the pressure and media interest in the lady, she would have to be more secretive than Freemasonry, the Mafia and MI6 combined, for anything very new to have gone unsaid or unnoticed thus far.

However, there is one reason at least why I am grateful for it: they had a photographer who was convinced, and managed to get JKR convinced as well, that she could and should look beautiful. Her photos in the feature, though slightly doll-like, are an indication of just how lovely she could look if she let herself.

This may sound secondary, frivolous, perhaps even sexist, when speaking of a great writer. But beauty, however fleeting, however misused, is a good thing in itself, and we ought to love and respect it wherever it is. Goethe put it wonderfully in one of his best quatrains:
The mirror tells me: you are fair!
And you insist, this too shall time remove.
But all fine things come from the hand of God;
In me, in this glimpse, it is Him you love.
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54. With good reason they came to this resolution, and I also have a right to use exaggerated language about her; for she had the greatest share of beauty, which is the most August, most precious, and most divine of all things. And it is easy to estimate its influence; for, while many of the things which have no part or lot in courage, wisdom, or justice, will be seen to be valued more highly than each of these, we shall find that none of those things which have no share of beauty are objects of admiration, but are universally despised, except in so far as they share this attribute, and that virtue owes its reputation chiefly to this, that it is the most beautiful of the aspects of life.
55. And we may learn the superiority of beauty over all other things from the feelings with which we ourselves regard each of them. For, in regard to other things, we merely desire to obtain what we stand in need of, but our minds are affected no further by them; but a love of beautiful things is implanted in us, as much more powerful than our will, as the object of it is better.
56. And, while we are jealous of those who surpass us in intelligence or anything else, if they do not win us over by daily benefits and force us to love them, we are inspired with goodwill towards the beautiful at first sight, and they are the only persons to whom we are never weary of paying homage as to the gods,
57. but we are more willing to serve such than to rule others, being more grateful to those who impose many tasks upon us than to those who set us nothing to do. And, while we reproach those who are subject to any other power, and contemptuously call them flatterers, we regard those who are the slaves of beauty as lovers of the beautiful and of honourable labour.
58. Further, we show such pious respect and consideration for this gift of nature, that we hold those of its possessors who make a profit of it and counsel ill in regard to their youth in greater dishonour than those who violate the persons of others; while we honour in the future those who keep the flower of their own youth inaccessible to the vicious like a sacred shrine equally with those who have conferred some benefit on the city at large.
59. But why need I waste time in recording the opinions of men? Zeus, the lord of all, who displays his might in everything else, considers it right to approach beauty in a spirit of humility. For in the likeness of Amphitryon he visited Alcmene, and as a golden stream was intimate with Danae, and, in the form of a swan, took refuge in the bosom of Nemesis, and, in the same shape, won Leda for his bride, ever pursuing his quest of this gift of nature by stratagem and not by force.

(From "In praise of Helen," by Isokrates)


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