- The Washington Times - Wednesday, March 19, 2003

Coke spokesman
"Simon Cowell is … famous for the needlessly brutal insults of the more hapless contestants on the fame-seeking spectacle 'American Idol.' … What advertiser would want to enlist such a person?
"Coca-Cola, for one. The soft-drink maker is an aggressive sponsor of 'American Idol,' not just via plain old ad time but through paid product placement it's not a coincidence that Cowell and the other judges are constantly hoisting red Coke cups. …
"Part of Cowell's appeal is that, like a soap opera villain, he's the type that people 'love to hate.' … But the rest of his appeal is best understood in the context of insult humor, from Don Rickles to the Conan O'Brien puppet Triumph. Even when cruel, the insulter can be funny, but more to the point he often says what others are thinking….
"Obviously there's a contradiction here: Cowell's brutal honesty is attractive in a way, but you also want him to get his comeuppance. This is what the Vanilla Coke ad wrestles with. … If even the mighty Cowell can be bullied into liking Vanilla Coke, maybe we should all just give up and buy some. How's that for brutal honesty?"
Rob Walker, writing on "Soda Jerk," Monday in Slate at www.slate.com
Training the mind
"The classical view of education holds that human beings are thinking creatures. Unlike other living beings, humans live by their intelligence. We want to know things. … Children demonstrate what is true of all people: we are natural learners. Therefore, any plan of education should take advantage of young people's natural curiosity. Schemes that stall children in their learning because 'they are not ready for it,' or that use various gimmicks that sugar-coat learning as though children take to their books as they do their medicine, are not only unnecessary but counterproductive and insulting to humanity. …
"The mind, like the body, atrophies when not well-trained. The emphasis on rigorous mental training is an important difference between classical and modern, progressive education. By stressing childhood 'creativity' and 'spontaneity,' without making children do much work or work on anything important, the modern school turns bright young children into bored adults who do not know very much. It is the old story of the tortoise and the hare. Falling in love with our talents, without making any substantial effort to improve them, leads nowhere."
Terrence Moore, principal of Ridgeview Classical Schools in Fort Collins, Colo., writing on "Cultural Literacy Best for the Young Person's Mind and the Nation"
Everyone's a critic
"Before ascending to his status as the Beethoven we know, the eternal genius and all that, Beethoven was still more than a lionised virtuoso and creator. He was a consummate musical professional, the archetypal composer-pianist.
"And, like many professionals, he was given to sitting with friends over a beer and flaying the competition. Of the flashy new virtuosos he groused: 'The greatest piano players were the greatest composers. But how did they play? Not like the pianists of today, who just race up and down the keyboard.'
"Yet the most illustrious composer-pianist of the recent past didn't please him much, either. Having heard Mozart a number of times, Beethoven told his pupil Czerny that Mozart 'had a fine but choppy way of playing, no legato.' What he meant was that Mozart was really a harpsichord player, not a pianist. And, by implication, a harpsichord rather than piano composer, too. In his terms, Beethoven was right.
"History has paid little attention to Beethoven's abiding concern with his instrument. Among the first generation to grow up as pure pianists, he placed great importance on new ways of playing and writing."
Jay Swafford, writing on "More sound," Saturday in the Guardian

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