Wednesday, January 30, 2013


Yes, Jeanette Robinson Swanson has passed. Once we all can acknowledge that loss, we need to understand that the absolute last thing that Jeanette wanted was a maudlin, mournful service full of crying and wailing. No melancholy soul she… Jeanette wanted music, lively conversation, the clink of a glass or two and fond remembrances of good times past and the anticipation of a bright future for all who remain.  Jeanette, just as she lived her life, was under no delusions, fully understood her situation and was prepared to meet her Maker.  We thought we had two to three years though that turned out to be just five months… Jeanette told me that she was ready to go though fought tooth and nail – ferociously – to stay among us.  And that’s where she remains – testament of her influence in our lives – perhaps more than we realize.
So, how do we remember Jeanette?  Key words that pop in my mind include Pragmatic, Principled, Honest, Loyal, Proud, Bright, Strong, Character, Integrity, Quick and a trait she shared with Hägar - the uncanny ability to accurately read people.  She likely manifested some other traits that may point more to her humanity and likely shared with this writer.  

I first met Jeanette and Bob at the Savannah Highland Games in 1977 when with a new Keith & Austin Ancient kilt and full kit - armed no doubt with wink and nod directions from Gib MacKenzie of Caledonian Imports fame, found them in their Clan Gunn tent.  An amused Jeanette and a soon to become Hägar the Horrible admitted later they really didn’t know what to think but that first meeting evolved into a literal lifelong Friendship that saw us sharing the ups and downs of LIFE.  I eventually evolved into their eldest son of questionable origins and they my surrogate parents and Mentors. Point here is that they adopted many others along the way with Jeanette always the wise counsel and the proverbial not so subtle power behind the throne. 

Jeanette was born to parents Ural “Bob” Martin Robinson and Tressie Williams Robinson in Jasper, Alabama.  If you had asked her when, she would only reply, “a long, long time ago” though she met her maker at the very early age of 74 years – a surprising number since her Father lived to be 95 and Mother 93.  We thought that we would have her around – at least - for another decade or two…

Jeanette attended Walker High School in Jasper where she was a proud Viking long before she met Bob Swanson or was involved in the Kingdome of Räknar.  From an early age she demonstrated great musical talents and as a Valkyrie of some note was an accomplished soloist in the Walker High Glee Club.  She should have gone on to the University of Alabama or even Julliard to study music.  Alas, her continuing education save that of life itself did not happen though Jeanette sang to acclaim in several church choirs and civic organizations.  Jeanette made the decision to enter the world of business where she worked for a cotton broker and later for DuPont selling explosives to construction companies.  Many thought that type casting or as we say in Human Resources – that perfect fit!  For almost 30 years Jeanette was an integral Team member of the Ladd Management Company of Birmingham, working as leasing agent, property manager and as of January, 2007, a well-deserved promotion to Vice-President.  With her savvy and impeccable accounting skills she long handled the administration and rentals for Ladd.  Nuff said

In her free time Jeanette was a staunch, no zealous, fan of University of Alabama Football.  Ladies and Gentlemen this was all about DNA, her proud Southern demeanor and her Robinson roots.  Needless to say, we had a lot to talk about the last few years especially given Alabama’s recent drubbing of Notre Dame.  Thanks to Coach Saban and the rock solid Tide players who gave so much to their Fans and especially to Jeanette Swanson.  You gave Jeanette yet another reason for being…  I remember one Scottish function where Jeanette was introduced as the “Great Queen Helga, daughter of the great Crimson Chief of the Kingdome of the Red Elephants.”  Kind of nails it.

There was a long history of Alabama football in the Robinson Family that went back to Father Bob and identical twin brother Hendricks who both played tackle for the Parrish High School football team in Parrish, Alabama.  Jeanette’s Father had long been the only surviving player from Parrish’s first football team (the Tornadoes) of 1920 and when he passed at age 95, the high school paid major homage and tribute to this distinguished pioneer.  

Jeanette was so proud that Father Bob was part of that circle of close Friends and support mechanism that revolved around legendary Coach Paul “Bear” Bryant of The University of Alabama.  Coach Bryant made a surprise and very welcome appearance on the occasion of Robinson’s 80th birthday.  For many years and until his retirement in 1982 The Bear made sure that Jeanette’s Dad had prime University of Alabama football tickets with Robinson reciprocating by making jams and jellies for Bryant.  I remember Jeanette recounting a not so subtle handwritten note and hint from The Bear reminding Father Bob that he was out of jam... a request that was quickly filled.

In 2006 Jeanette went to her 50th class reunion (class of 1956) at Walker High School and was predictably asked along with other class members to offer information about their lives.  Jeanette reflected that she had married a gentleman from Northern Iowa whereupon one of her stunned classmates observed, “We thought that you didn’t like Yankees and yet you married one!”  Jeanette retorted, “I thought that I’d get back at em, one at a time.”  Indeed, she did - though Bob proved to be a noble adversary.  Jeanette confided in me later reflecting that she regretted not adding that she had married a REAL Viking! You see, Bob was a first generation American born of Scottish parents (with Norse origins) who emigrated through Medicine Hat, Alberta, Canada.

Jeanette recounted how she met husband Bob even as she was dating someone else.  Seems that one Sunday in June, 1967 Jeanette and a girlfriend (both bored silly) in an absolutely dead Birmingham, were looking for something to do and were steered to a party that Bob was throwing.  Despite the fact that Jeanette was in a relationship, she obviously wasn’t against improving her lot and went to the party meeting Bob for the first time.   After an evening of dancing and good conversation Bob asked for her telephone number though Jeanette remembers distinctly that he never wrote it down.  Exasperated, she thought the whole experience, “Nice, but a waste of time.”

Jeanette recalled her surprise when Bob telephoned the next day and asked her out to dinner which after the proper inquiries she accepted. That meal turned out to be mid-evening and despite a famished Jeanette who used to early dining consuming everything in sight, an absolutely smitten Bob was so impressed he proposed marriage on the spot. It took an amused Jeanette two weeks to finally relent, accepting Bob’s proposal much to the relief of all their Friends.  They were married at the Chapel in The Pines, in Hoover, Alabama on July 15, 1967 and appropriately by the Reverend Magbee, a native of Glasgow, Scotland who fittingly rolled his R’s! That event was certainly a harbinger of things to come.

In an interesting post nuptial vignette we need note that Bob drove Himself and Jeanette from the church at the top of Shades Mountain (now in Bluff Park) to the reception.  While negotiating the road down the mountain, a still nervous Robert Swanson nearly drove them over the side.  Jeanette in what had to be the first of many scoldings advised Bob, “It’s too late to do that now.  You should have done that before the wedding, not after!”

We would be remiss if we did not mention that Bob took Jeanette on a Mexican honeymoon.  No, not to Cancun, Acapulco or even Puerto Vallarta, rather, “to a high class brothel owned by one of his Friends.”  Jeanette reflected that despite what most might think she, “…really, REALLY enjoyed herself and made many friends.”  This didn’t, however, prevent Jeanette from lording this over Bob, using it as ammunition whenever she wanted her way - threatening to tell her Mother where they really went on their honeymoon.  Despite this blackmail fodder the couple got along well and lived a great life though Jeanette admitted to the end that there was some culture shock like differing tastes in music as well as food and just the damning realization that she had, “married a Yankee”. To their credit they always worked any issues out – that seemingly being the hallmark of their very successful relationship. And part of that loyalty she demonstrated – she always had Bob’s back.

We suspect that many reading this eulogy, indeed homage, to Jeanette know of the commitment and contributions she made to the American-Scottish Community. Much of the credit for those accomplishments has been given to husband Bob, but now’s the time to come clean.  Certainly Bob who morphed into the now iconic Hägar the Horrible the King of Räknar was the public face, but it was Jeanette who set the wheels in motion and kept them turning to the delight of many.  The impact of her work was felt around the world from Alabama to Georgia to North Carolina to Canada, Scotland, New Zealand and on, aye, even to Texas...

It was Jeanette with her usual sensitive and keen eye who steered Bob to his epiphany - that first Scottish gathering in Wetumpka, Alabama in 1969 which reminded Bob of his heritage and the customs and habits of his parents allowing him to embrace and celebrate that which he held dear.  Once pointed in the right direction by Jeanette he researched and reinforced his Gunn, MacFarland and MacKay roots.  Bob and Jeanette attended the Grandfather Mountain Highland Games for the first time in 1970, returning for twenty-three straight years until Bob’s passing.
With several years of Scottish events under their belts Jeanette and Bob sought out other kindred spirits in Birmingham collaborating with Gib and Marjorie McKenzie and native Scots Ken and Isabelle Siddle broaching the idea of a Scottish Society in Birmingham that would be a Family oriented group that would educate and celebrate their Scottish roots.  They soon connected with others of their Ilk including Ian and Josephine Sturrock, Charles Ingram, Larry MacIntosh and John and Pauline Hendricks among others who became the original founders of the Caledonian Society of Alabama which continues to this day.  Ken and Isabelle Siddle have recounted, “The idea to form the society came from Bob and Jeanette Swanson.  The first meeting of the Caledonian Society of Alabama took place in 1975 at Bob and Jeanette’s home.”
From his attendance at the Grandfather Mountain Highland Games on it appears that Jeanette and Bob sensed providence – an opportunity to pass on their enthusiasm and great love of all things Scottish!  Bob was transformed into a goodwill ambassador extraordinaire for the entire Scottish Community.  The Swansons profoundly influenced the lives of others with humor, wisdom, adventure and affection. Those that they touched passed that enthusiasm on to their Friends and acquaintances.  As it turned out, Jeanette and Bob attracted those of their temperament and ilk, no “Ken & Barbies” rather more individualistic, eccentric, cutting edge folks – the mostly leaders, movers and shakers in their own communities.  By 1978 when these folks all started hanging out together, the message spread rapidly prompting the formation of the Kingdome of Räknar and a renewed interest in that Scottish element in our society.
Point here is that if Bob was the Salesman and goodwill ambassador, Jeanette was the marketer and glue that bound us all together.  Though Bob first thought the idea of The Kingdome, “silly” he ultimately morphed into the haggis-eating Hägar with his trademark horns and Jeanette became Queen Helga, the ultimate Valkyrie even with the appropriate yellow braids lovingly crafted by Lady Betty Sinclair and that red nose donated by Caro and David Irvine, 26th Baron of Drum.  It was soon obvious to most that Jeanette was the power and inspiration behind the throne, and still is.  Dik Browne appears to have written his Hägar the Horrible cartoon strip and created Helga with Jeanette in mind.  Without Jeanette all this would never have happened.  Jeanette’s children were and are the many citizens of The Kingdome.  She guarded them with a jealous pride, praising or chastising as the situation warranted.
In 1991 Jeanette fought and beat cancer demonstrating incredible courage, strength and resolve that, frankly, characterized her whole life.  Example - hospitalized in June for surgery she was able to make it to Grandfather Mountain in early July returning to Birmingham for yet another surgery and the start of her chemotherapy.  Räknar Scribe David Chagnon reported during all this Jeanette was still punching the clock (and Bob) as often as possible especially when Bob called her “Baldy” after the loss of her hair.  Jeanette characterized Bob during this period as, “a pretty good but not pretty nurse.”

For a year during this interval this writer lived with Jeanette and Bob at their old Vestavia digs and while some thought me too cheap to get my own place, I was there at their behest and invitation assuming a gille status doing the heavy lifting, most of the cooking and hauling – well you get the picture.  Fittingly when my position ended in Leeds and with Jeanette’s recovery, I returned to Atlanta.  What a year that was and pleasure to share a year with Jeanette and Bob.

Jeanette always consummately proud of her own Alabama Family and roots also commented that the Kingdome of Räknar was her other Family and special because, “We got to choose each other.” and, “Certainly a great form of therapy because we can escape from our busy and sometimes hectic lives, gather together, have fun, act silly and then return to the real world, refreshed and motivated.”

In June Jeanette’s ashes will find a final resting place in Barren River Lake in Glasgow, Kentucky where they will mingle with Hägar for an eternity.  They will both reign once more on the occasion of the 27th annual Glasgow, Kentucky Highland Games and all the games that follow – wherever their venue.  Barren River is a fitting resting place for Jeanette who leaves us inspired, refreshed and motived.
Tonight I was watching NCIS and in order to make a point Agent Gibbs gives a despondent Abby who was contemplating her ultimate worth, a fortune cookie she had gifted then new acquaintance Gibbs many years earlier.  The “fortune” read and I paraphrase, “Today’s new Friend is Tomorrow’s Family.” She realized that humble gift started a Friendship that endured and prevailed and that she had made a difference - that her life had worth.

Jeanette and the work of her life made a difference in the lives of many and the reason why her Family is so considerable and will endure for many more, aye, countless generations. Jeanette reminded us to embrace our past though as prologue of a bright future in an ever changing world.  By honoring Jeanette Swanson’s memory we affirm the best that we are and can be. 

So as Lady Betty Sinclair once wrote as a tribute to Jeanette, ”To Helga, the fairest of the fair - to the Viking Queen that we love most, to Jeanette, a big Viking Skol!”

We say, well done and sleep well, our Queen.


Ned Buxton
Thorfinn of the Kingdome of Räknar

Saturday, January 19, 2013


This is a long post though no apologies as this subject demands even more scrutiny than I have mustered. Those that really know me (they are few) understand my passion for Victor Hugo, the French People in general and by extension producer Cameron Mackintosh and his various very successful global musical manifestations of Les Mis from the stage to the screen.  I have, eloquent or not, depending on your perspectives offered my comments about the many stage productions of the play.  So now comes the highly anticipated movie musical.

We understand that Les Misérables has been interpreted for the silver screen and television ten times including the 1934 French film version considered by many as one of the triumphs of French filmmaking. The 1935 production starring iconic actors Fredric March as Jean Valjean and Charles Laughton who played Javert. While in 1952 director Lewis Milestone (All Quiet on the Western Front) missed the mark, it still retains “classic status” because of Michael Rennie's “Christ like” Valjean and Robert Newton's overzealous Javert.  Most recently, in 1998, it was Liam Neeson battling Geoffrey Rush’s Javert, with Uma Thurman as Fantine and Claire Danes as Cosette.  But, none of them sang. The previous versions were all pure drama (no singing) and most did not accurately follow the Victor Hugo storyline (exception 1934) with the 1998 version reducing the roles and influence of many of the key characters.  I hesitated though ultimately liked 1998 but not with the same visceral passion I attach to the Cameron Mackintosh musical productions.  My indoctrination to and preference for the musical made the 1998 movie just another afternoon entertainment joust with a twist.

So that opinion is now coupled with thousands more expressed in the various Les Mis reviews, forums and threads from around the world.  Predictably, everybody has an opinion though generally at the expense of one interpretation over another and in this case the screen adaptation over the stage version. The visceral, obsessive allegiance (including primo vulgarities) directed to one character or version of Les Mis over another is astonishing and inappropriate. You’d think we were talking about gun control or the US debt ceiling…

We and a few others maintain we are going about this all wrong.  Many Les Mis fans are treating the two versions as one and the same and – they are not.  It’s apples and oranges and we need to give both the credit for their interpretation and the differences in these two mediums. Let’s take a look at the 2012 movie musical and then readdress this observation.

The recently released (Christmas Day 2012) Les Misérables musical for the big screen has been anticipated for some time given the huge success of the stage productions, aye, since 1985.  Interestingly, the musical was originally panned by the critics, but not by the public who flocked to see the original production at the Barbican Centre in London, England. As the original and my favorite Jean Valjean, Colm Wilkinson opined, “the people voted with their feet…”  Most of the critics have come around since then… From that point Les Mis Fans and critics alike have embraced their favorite versions and actors literally from around the world. 

There are some suspect doubters including movie critic Todd McCarthy of The Hollywood Reporter who confusingly, offers that this musical has too much music (?) seemingly validating his layoff from Variety.  While McCarthy probably also thinks that “water is too wet” he did have some nice things to say but surgically dissected the film, essentially condemning the millions of Les Mis fans prophetically noting that their commitment to the cause, “might be all that is required.” From his bully pulpit he’s right and everybody else is wrong.  We guess that McCarthy is writing for the minority - those few - those discriminating erudite few that know the difference… He makes me happy to the part of the 49%...

In all fairness we need note that some (not all) movie critics not unlike the original stage production have taken exception with the movie and specifically with Director Tom Hooper. Unlike some, we like the energy of his innovative camera work and note that the producers gave Hooper the control and authority to essentially interpret the stage version as he saw fit… and he did.  I will not criticize what is artistic license and respect Hooper all the more for the final product. We think that some of the criticism directed at Hooper is pure slop.  And how about the Cleveland, Ohio critic that, “There is not enough great drama to drive the story and not enough great songs to pick up the dull bits.” Yes, he really said that… “not enough drama”!  We understand that the movie is breaking records in that great city.

So, the movie musical has been anything but panned by the public, setting box office and attendance records since its release. The People continue to vote with their feet. This last week the movie garnered the Golden Globe for Best Musical or Comedy, Best Actor (Hugh Jackman) and Best Supporting Actress (Anne Hathaway). Les Misérables received nine British Academy of Film & Television Arts (BFATA) nominations for Best Film, Best British Film, Leading Actor (Hugh Jackman), Supporting Actress (Anne Hathaway), Cinematography, Production Design, Costume Design, Sound, Sound Mixing and Make Up & Hair.  The movie received eight American Academy Award nominations including nods for Best Picture, Actor (Hugh Jackman), Supporting Actress (Anne Hathaway), Production Design, Costumes, Makeup and Hairstyling, Original Song and Sound Mixing. We propose they deserved more recognition and nominations… though these nods by themselves appear a real stick in the eye to those cynical and nonsensical critics and reviewers who just don’t get it… Having said that all are entitled to their opinion.

Les Mis grossed over $100M in just thirteen days – a new record for North American musicals. Les Mis is closing in on $100M outside North America too and has already surpassed the $200M mark worldwide. The movie shattered opening day UK box office records grossing an estimated $3.7M for Friday last alone. The trend is expected to continue as the film opened in other parts of the world this last week indeed, in many venues where the stage version has played successfully. Number crunchers note that Les Mis by its very presence has elevated the sales of other competing films.  Nice…

Cameron Mackintosh shows his creative genius in yet another medium with some common threads to his stage productions.  The film is based on the original stage musical of the same name by Alain Boublil and Jean-Marc Natel (lyrics), Claude-Michel Schönberg (music) with subsequent English-language libretto by Herbert Kretzmer. Scripting for the movie is credited to William Nicholson (Gladiator and Elizabeth: The Golden Age, among others) and Boublil, Schönberg and Kretzmer.  Tom Hooper (Prime Suspect, John Adams, Elizabeth I & The King’s Speech, among others) demonstrated, once again his superb directorial talents. Hey, let’s give Victor Hugo some nods here…

We think it brilliant (and a nice touch) that Mackintosh gave an aging (too senior for Valjean) Colm Wilkinson the role of the benevolent Bishop of Digne who appropriately gives direction to Valjean’s life, literally setting him on the path of redemption by “buying Valjean’s soul for God.”  Indeed, when I saw Wilkinson make his appearance as the Bishop it was for me (and should be for all Les Mis followers) yet another Ah-Ha and meaningful heart-warming moment… for Colm Wilkinson it was closure and the realization that he had, “come full circle.”

Mackintosh also included Frances Ruffelle who created the role of Éponine in the original London cast and then won a Tony Award for playing Éponine on Broadway. In the movie she still shines in a two minute scene per Cameron Mackintosh as, “the most famous Whore” (Whore No. 1) singing Lovely Ladies. There are appropriately other participants from previous productions of Les Mis. They give the movie even more depth and character…

One of the most distinguishing features of the production was that all the vocals were performed live – no lip-synch or mime here. With the spectacular and emotional (aye, intimate) close-ups the viewer knows the cast is singing just for them. This aspect the movie allows the actors to have, “emotional control over their songs.” The spontaneity and all the energy the actors can muster with their interpretations are channeled into that moment allowing an exponentially more powerful scene. The “live” aspect of the movie performances share with the stage production though that even showcases their differences and beg the attention we referenced earlier (later). 

When Hathaway as Fantine after selling teeth and her hair (literally chopped off onscreen) and reduced to prostitution sings her lament, I Dreamed a Dream, with a teary hysteria - an emotion never before experienced on screen or stage - the audience plunges with her into that abyss – “that Hell she was living”.  It was extraordinary acting and exceptional singing that allowed me for the first time to experience Fantine’s real despair… Hathaway has a singing background and wonderfully, it was her Mother Kate that provided the inspiration as she played Fantine in the first U.S. tour of Les Misérables.  Aye…

Then there was Eddie Redmayne the Tony Award winning, Eton (Prince William’s classmate) & Trinity educated, English actor who played/performed, no lived the coveted role of Marius—the courageous young revolutionary survivor of the 1832 June Rebellion in Paris who falls for Cosette (Amanda Seyfried), the adopted daughter of Jean Valjean.  Redmayne still in his youth at almost 31 and already an accomplished actor hadn’t sung in any role since he played Urchin No. 30 (at “11 or 12”) in Cameron Mackintosh's Oliver.  Redmayne was a soloist in the Eton College Choir so his “preppy pipes” were just waiting to be truly tested and polished.  His performance was remarkable, perhaps the best Marius ever – or will be… but that’s just me.

Redmayne’s Empty Chairs at Empty Tables (ECAET) wasn’t just sung, it was emoted and you lived his pain at the loss of his Friends. As one contributor to a Les Mis forum offered of Redmayne’s ECAET, “His despair was just palpable.” For me this was the best interpretation not only of this song but of Marius and why no Oscar nomination was forthcoming is absolutely criminal…

What we like about the rough-hewn, wide-eyed, freckle faced Redmayne is that despite his early successes he remains approachable - one of us - seemingly rejecting super celebrity status which he probably deserves. That may be one of the greatest gifts he offers to us - his equality and fraternity.

There were other stellar performers to include 22 year old Samantha Bark (Isle of Man/Sam) as Eponine who in her first movie role recreated and adapted her stage character for the screen. With lesser performances by Hathaway and Jackman, Bark could have completely stolen the show. As it is Bark is the Les Mis breakout star who performed like a veteran with her passionate On My Own and my favorite, her goodbye, A Little Fall of Rain. We first saw Samantha in the Les Mis 25th Anniversary concert at the O2 and thought her superb.  Now everybody will know her.

And then when you take stock of these and other superb performances you at once realize that all this pales compared to the performance by Hugh Jackman.  No, he can’t sing like Colm Wilkinson but neither can Wilkinson act like Jackman.  This is the perfect example of those apples and oranges referenced earlier.  Jackman’s demeanor, leadership and dedication to his character inspired others, especially the junior members of the cast and mentor Russell Crowe.  Is it fair to ponder that Jackman while great technically with his Bring Him Home, still can’t carry Colm Wilkinson’s bags?  Probably not
Jackman, Wilkinson and, yes, Wilkinson wanna-be - the absolutely brilliant Alfie Boe - all bring their own strengths to the game.  Boe is neither Jackman nor Wilkinson with the latter two not really on the same page either.  Both are brilliant in their own venues though Jackman because of the magic of film allowed this writer to experience moments I never felt with any stage production.

And that’s OK. That doesn’t demean or lessen any of the stage productions, rather draws attention to their differences. The most significant difference between stage and screen is communication – the method by which a message and meaning is expressed and conveyed. Brian Timoney the Scottish born and raised actor since moved to London now converted to a highly regarded method acting coach nails it for me with his clarification of the differences.

“The stage play relies strongly on language and verbal delivery. First, that means that the stage actor needs a voice that can be heard in a large auditorium. Second, in stage work the voice is central to expressiveness and communicating emotion. Third, timing of delivery, and using the voice to create and sustain dramatic tension are crucial, since they can't be tweaked in the editing suite.

Movies create meaning very differently. Montage - essentially the juxtapositioning of shots - is central. A character has received terrible news. Film can convey his or her reaction in several ways, suitably tuned to the narrative: by cutting to a stormy sky; a flashback to a car crash; a close-up of a dropped phone dangling. In a play, it is voice and physical movement that you must rely on for conveying emotion.

Gesture, movement and physicality are also vital on stage. Whereas tiny gestures can be magnified in close-up film shots, as a stage actor you will use your body very differently. You will need to communicate a physical energy and develop a 'stage presence'. The film close-up permits subtleties of facial expression and movement that don't work on the stage.”

So, any stage performer may find himself quite literally performing (key word) at center stage addressing an audience at 180 degrees building his character during the course of the play, feeding emotionally from audience reaction, his stage cohorts and whether he got up on the right side of the bed that morning.  The stage actor has to present a bigger than life persona to convey his/her message.  A word once spoken or sung is immediate history, cannot be taken back and will probably be on You Tube within minutes.  There is tomorrow, but that is a different snapshot – not the same time and place.

With film accomplished actors have a much more difficult charge where mostly without continuity they are required to capture the essence of their character and the attendant emotion in as true and, yes, believable a manner as possible, however subtle or over the top. They literally have to live in that one moment adding creative detail as they are so motivated.  How many (already lean) stage Jean Valjeans lost thirty pounds literally starving themselves to recreate the grim and desperate Prisoner 24601?  Only one… How many Jean Valjeans gained thirty pounds to play M'sieur Mayor?  Only one  How many (already lean) stage Fantines lost twenty-five pounds to recreate the character of an impoverished prostitute dying of tuberculosis?  Only one…  I could go on…

Generally stage sets and props are just that, a facsimile of the real scene perhaps even supported by video presentations such as in the latest stage production of Les Mis that uses pen and ink drawings by Victor Hugo.   It is a representation of a venue – not the real thing - that requires the audience to use their imagination and the actors to pull off that imagery.

Filming on set or location offers more realism and we note that Les Mis was filmed at Pinewood Studios, on location in France and also at Her Majesty’s Naval Base in Portsmouth, the Historic Chatham Dockyard, the Old Royal Naval College in Greenwich, Winchester College and Winchester Cathedral and at other spectacular locations in England.  No on-stage set could ever duplicate these magnificent venues… nor should they try… In the case of the stage and screen versions of Les Mis – they stimulate the imagination and have both excelled and demonstrated the skills of all involved.

So, when you go to see Les Misérables the movie (and we recommend that you do), don’t expect the stage production. What you can anticipate is the same story line and performances that mirror and always complement the London and New York stage performances.  If you are Human, if you care about the Spirit of Man, of Descent and ultimate Redemption then bring your Kleenex. Also be prepared to give this movie its due. After my first viewing of the film and as the film ended, applause started and even some cheers all coming to a crescendo before a filled theater mostly stood up in appreciation.  People didn’t want to leave holding on to the energy and passion of their experience standing in silence until the credits finished and light was slowly restored to the theater.

Victor Hugo once stated, “There is one spectacle grander than the sea, that is the sky; there is one spectacle grander than the sky, that is the interior of the soul.” And that has been bared for us thanks to the grand author of Les Misérables.

A most pragmatic Friend found her other self today when after seeing the movie, texted, “Les Mis… Magnificent… Wonderful… I’m still crying.  Peace.”   


Ned Buxton

Friday, January 11, 2013


Close Friends will verify that we predicted The Tide would score at least forty points against what had been a lucky as hell Irish Team during the regular season.  Please do remember that Notre Dame limited their mostly mediocre opponents to an average of 10.3 points per game during the regular season – the nation’s best defensive record.  We looked at the strength of their opponents and noted they ranked 31st overall while Alabama was a surprising 34th.  Difference – The Tide competed in the SEC – the most difficult conference in the nation.  What would have happened if Texas A&M or Georgia played Notre Dame?  OK, that was a rhetorical question. We also note that in the Compass Bowl a mediocre Ole Miss Team beat up Pittsburg who had taken the Irish to three overtimes before the Irish prevailed 29-26. 

These post season computer rankings prove to us, once again, that it’s garbage-in and garbage- out.  When it comes down to the sometimes pragmatic nonsense of computer rankings there is no apparent allowance for common sense and the heart & soul and allegiance to alma mater that distinguishes the game from all others.  

Despite the tremendous heart and soul of a very talented Manti Te'o, the Irish were good old Southern roadkill – and almost everybody (excluding Notre Dame), including the pollsters, knew the outcome well in advance of the game which was decided in the first quarter when Alabama scored fourteen unanswered points and manhandled the Irish. There had to be a key play in the game, right?  Paul Myerberg of USA TODAY Sports opined that was every time Alabama ran the ball.  Bottom line: Alabama out-rushed Notre Dame 265-32. It wasn’t nearly that close

At halftime with the score 28-0 Alabama, Notre Dame Coach Brian Kelly was asked by ESPN's sideline reporter, Heather Cox, "Where do the fixes need to come in the second half?" Kelley responded (we paraphrase) that the Irish would have a chance if Alabama doesn't come out of the locker room for the second half.  And so it went…

Now let me surprise you.  I love the tradition of Notre Dame football (Knute Rockne and George "the Gipper" Gipp and Rudy Ruettiger) though I have in the past abhorred the arrogance copped by some of their teams and fans.  I know there is a fine line between sprit, soul and arrogance but somehow – The Irish have seemingly been able to regularly cross that line.  Alabama hasn’t - seemingly content on taking the high road and letting their actions on the field speak for them. Coach Saban wouldn’t have it any other way.

We recently noted the redneck graphic (above) offered via a pre-game tweet by Jimmy Clausen - former Notre Dame quarterback (QB)and current second string QB for the Carolina Panthers.  That’s what we’re talking about.  We guess it could be a dig at his two brothers who both played at Tennessee.  Or perhaps it was meant for current Panther starter quarterback Cam Newton of Auburn or perhaps the 27 players on the current Panthers roster who played for Southern universities.  Perhaps…

Makes us wonder how the then #3 Irish felt coming down to Jackson in 1977 and getting beat by an unranked though motivated Ole Miss team.  We heard how Notre Dame was coming down to kick our butts and show the SEC… To their credit Notre Dame came back and won the national championship that year.  Humbling experiences can be positive

Closer to home Jerry Jones the completely clueless owner and general manager of the Dallas Cowboys is by his estimation, “cleaning house” after another season full of opportunities lost. Since Jones bought the Cowboys almost 24 years ago they are now only a parody of what we used to call “America’s Team.”  So how does he right the ship?  He nonsensically fired his running back coach and then defensive coordinator Rob Ryan who may have a big mouth and blustery, vulgar personality – but he improved the club, the morale and the defense. The Cowboys played most of the year without five starters on defense.  It ended up as a mishmash of players who ultimately gave the offense a chance to win most games. And how did Jones handle that separation?  He had Coach Jason Garrett telephone Ryan while he was on a family vacation – totally classless.   I am over the Dallas Cowboys as long as Jones owns them…

Maybe Jerry should consider leasing - in a Trumpesque move – the entire University of Alabama football squad and Coach Saban and his staff.  They would probably win some games, but even if they could do it, they’d turn him down cold.  All that Tide character and class would just get sideways with JJ Clueless.

Congratulations to the University of Alabama and the Southeastern Conference.


Ned Buxton

PS: Dedicated to the memory and life of Jeanette Swanson, the consummate University of Alabama Fan who took great pride in the recent thrashing of Notre Dame.  Jeanette was born in Jasper, Alabama, “a long, long time ago” and lived most of her life in Birmingham. Parents Ural “Bob” Martin Robinson and Tressie Williams Robinson were also loyal University of Alabama fans with Father Bob supplying The Bear with his homemade jams and jellies for many years prior to Bear’s passing.  Jeanette loved the Southeastern Conference with the exception of Auburn University which always held a special and not so noble place in her heart.  She was a dear Friend who always told it like it was and whose memory will be honored.  Aye, NB  January 19, 2013

Sunday, January 6, 2013


Bagheera found love and moved to the United States anticipating, aye, relishing becoming a US Citizen – punctuating her July 4th birthdate.  Her ultimate mission was the attainment of that goal for her and daughter Leila.  Despite lots of turmoil and stress in an ever complicated world she was prevailing until her premature demise.  In the short time that I knew Bagheera I found her to be an intelligent, eloquent and pragmatic soul whose A+ effort at a real and better life should have been successful. Bagheera deserved more breaks than she received.
What Bagheera had was a heart and soul like her Kipling- generated namesake which she occasionally revealed but primarily reserved for only those closest to her person.  She played her life close to the vest with most aspects occupying what were mostly private moments dedicated to her and daughter Leila.

I will miss her wit and humor and her beautiful flowing Parisian French which captured even the hearts of those Quebecois she entertained almost daily.  Bottom line - she knew people and never acknowledged any barriers – only opportunities.  She mostly recently experienced pain and sorrow though even through that was able to be the segue for motivation and joy for those that knew her.

What she found at Crossmark was a convivial, kindred group of souls that she impressed and captured with her sense of humor and dedication to her work.  With her solid interactive skills she became an integral member of a talented Recruiting Team.
We lost a special one this day after Christmas last when Bagheera lay down to sleep and never awoke. I will regularly raise a glass and say her name so that none will forget and she will remain among us...  

Dors bien…. Aye.

Ned Buxton

Saturday, January 5, 2013


The continuing scorched-earth filibustering strategies of the Republican Party who so far detached from reality appear to all but guarantee they will remain the minority party of the present and near future.  Accurate characterization or not, the GOP has come across to the majority of the voting citizenry as an elitist, moneyed class dominated by “Fat Old White Guys” intent only on their own survival and perpetuation.  The GOP is all about politicizing any issue however (in)significant seemingly just to take an opposing stance.  The Fiscal Cliff (FC) is a perfect example.  With absolutely no leverage save their current House majority, they were willing with their posturing and histrionics to compromise even their own constituency and pull the rest of the country down with them – lemmings over that manufactured, faux cliff. 

While the Senate leadership negotiated a deal (the American Taxpayer Relief Act of 2012) just as we began our “plunge” over the FC, the welcome, though surprisingly quick approval by the House required many Republicans to break ranks and violate their pledge to, “not raise taxes” incurring the wrath of the far, far, far extremist right in their party.  Even with the deal struck the ultimate endorsement of that agreement appeared tainted because of its many loose ends and the reaction of the few who we now wonder why they can (or even want to) call themselves Republicans (more later).
The House vote was 257 for to 167 against meaning that 172 Democrats and 85 Republicans voted for the bill. Only 16 Democrats joined the 151 Republicans who voted against it. Those 85 Republicans earned a Purple Heart for their efforts with many members of the Tea Party vowing to put up candidates to oppose them come their reelection. We are amused that some Republicans are now defending the bill as, “the largest tax cut in history” while an overwhelming majority of all Congressional Republicans voted against the bill.  Ah, pure spin

What we do know is that this is just the start of what will be an extraordinarily volatile and contentious (no expletives deleted) 2013 with many major issues yet to be negotiated, most conspicuously - the US debt ceiling which is not even mentioned in the current bill. This bill also delays for two months the implementation of the sequester - those billions of dollars in across-the-board spending cuts.   We have lots of work to do.

We think the reality of restoring payroll taxes to 2011 levels (from 4.2% to 6.2%) though not appealing is something we will certainly have to learn to live with.  We need remember this was only a temporary reduction of the payroll tax rate and it apparently performed its stimulus purpose.  Companies across the country have already notified their employees of the impending change (mine has).  We all knew that some tax rates were going to be restored and while this stings most of the country's 160 million workers, it isn’t the huge bite and pain that the full impact of an unfettered FC would have prompted. We need not throw out the baby with the bath water…though we absolutely need to cut spending.

Our challenge is find new revenue streams, restore those legitimate sources now in hiatus and cut spending.  That will take a huge bipartisan effort and one we, frankly, don’t see happening.  Criticism coming from moderate Republicans directed at the Republican Senate and House leadership is now flowing freely exacerbated by the incredible and deliberately insensitive political faux pas by Boehner to delay any vote on the relief bill directed to Super Storm Sandy victims.  Go figure…  

While some Republicans have publicly “kissed and made up” with House Speaker Boehner it appears that great damage has been done to the GOP and Boehner’s leadership even as he was lamely reelected House Speaker. We’re with Those Republicans who have seen the light and the necessity for inclusion and a more responsible and cooperative approach to the business of the country.  That includes New Jersey Governor Chris Christie and specifically New York Republican Peter King, who disgusted with Boehner’s politicking and delay on Sandy Relief publicly advised GOP donors in New York and New Jersey to not give even a dime to the Republicans who delayed the vote.

Then last Friday when the often delayed Sandy Relief vote to start to pay flood insurance claims from the storm finally came up, the measure was passed unanimously by the Senate. However, 67 Republican members of the House of Representatives voted "no" to assisting Sandy victims - many of whom remain homeless as of this post – two plus months after the event!  Republicans voting against the bill included those from states that benefitted heavily from federal aid following Katrina, some of those Tea Baggers from Texas and the entire Kansas House delegation that received assistance after a 2007 tornado destroyed the city of Greensburg, Kansas and more than likely will be seeking disaster aid for their continuing severe drought.

We note that this Sandy Bill is just the tip of the relief iceberg ($9.7B) with a vote on January 15 looming to authorize the additional $51B. As Kansas State Rep. Jim Ward (D-Wichita) opined about the Kansas Republican/Tea Party rejection of the Sandy Relief Bill, "I do think their ideology got in the way of common sense."

While the Sandy Relief Bill can be modeled overall as disaster relief much of the package relates to the authorization to pay legitimate flood damage claims under the National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP).  It seems ludicrous to have to remind pointy-headed Republicans that include Paul Ryan that there is a legal responsibility to pay legitimate claims by policyholders who bought this insurance as protection against just such a calamitous event. So, where is the option to deny benefits?  Point in fact – there is none unless the US Government is going to default.  We can only wonder what would happen if a private insurance company acted in such a manner.  They would soon be out of business. If the NFIP requires tweaking then fix it, but not at the continuing expense of legitimate policyholders and taxpayers.
Yes, Paul Ryan voted against the Sandy Relief bill along with other Tea Baggers.  It’s becoming more and more obvious that we have two parties on the other side of the aisle and we appear nearing the point where one fraction will surely split and become an autonomous entity.  Perhaps one group can call themselves Republicans and the other – the Tea Party.  Once formally separate they can pursue their own agendas unfettered by the politics of the other. When the Republicans played to a dwindling and radical Tea Party base they, as respected former congressman J. C. Watts opined, "… got our heads handed to us. We were wrong on every single front."  Perhaps we can now have a third color besides red and blue on our political maps.  How about brown…

Ryan Cooper of the Washington Monthly prophetically opined in an October, 2012 column, “The Republican party gets much of its power from an extremist base, easily whipped into a frenzy, that is increasingly out of contact with reality.  It gives them an organizing edge, but is also driving them to total absolutism (can’t negotiate with socialism!) which at the least isn’t a guaranteed route to electoral victory.”

Republican former Utah Gov. Jon Huntsman, who unsuccessfully ran for the Republican presidential nomination in 2012 probably committed political suicide and perhaps with some sour grapes, characterized the GOP in a recent interview with Britain's Daily Telegraph as being “devoid of a soul.”  With the Sandy vote that works for us.

All this points to the gist of the problem with the GOP and potentially with the Democrats if they too forget their roots (stop the pork barrelling). Yes, we need a healthy two party system and right now that’s broken.  If any party is to succeed and remain relevant they have to embrace a wide range of persuasive, workable political viewpoints and approaches (conservative, progressive, moderate, liberal, etc.) built around a core philosophy that reaches into the majority of the electorate.  To do otherwise is political suicide.  And what the Republicans are now doing is readying their own hara kiri demise.


Ned Buxton