Thursday, September 30, 2010


Here's where you can see journalism failing us.

The New York Times has the story here (and also here) that I'm sure everyone has heard of this point, of the violinist student who committed suicide after his roommate live broadcast his physical relationship with another male student, and attempted to continue doing that.

It's part of a basic story of bullying gays that is an old story, but here it has a dramatic ending.

Now, here's another high-profile story, in the Michigan Daily, about the Assistant Attorney General in Michigan who decided to wage a hate campaign against a student body president for being gay.

Wouldn't the New York Times (being the later of the two), be doing us a great service to connect those two stories together? In case you're wondering what's so heinous about what the Assistant Attorney General's actions (which you shouldn't be), isn't it that it could result in what's so tragic about the first story?

BJA in American Idiot

All I can say is that, when he did that stunt on a small scale during the Tony's, all I could think of was -- he doesn't have the articulation for Broadway... he sounds like he's just slurring along. Broadway performers have some actual skills suited to actually Broadway.

Anyways, wish him the best of luck. I'm already spending more words on Broadway that I ever really care to, so I guess it worked.

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Legal Commentary: Mozilla Seabird

This isn't actually a law story, on the face of it, but dig this puppy. It's a concept for a phone that would use projection and sensors to create a larger keyboard and a larger display wherever you wanted one.

But the reason this filed here under legal commentary is this:

The Seabird phone is definitely a conceptual idea: Mozilla has squashed any thoughts of actually building the Android-powered device. So don’t expect to see such a handset at next year’s Consumer Electronics Show. Even though the phone itself will likely never appear, it is a safe bet that future phones will leverage some of the technologies found in Seabird. And newer solutions could evolve to take the place of a projected keyboard or display as handsets evolve, and that’s the key word: evolve.
This move of sharing a concept in hopes that elements will be stolen by other developers is basically as harsh an antithesis of today's patent system status quo.

Here's what I would expect Mozilla to have done.
  1. Worked on the concept for a bit.
  2. Applied for a patent.
  3. Decided that they didn't want to develop it.
  4. Sit on it and tell no one.
  5. Sue the first person to commercially market the idea.
Instead, Mozilla is acting as though... they... don't care about money? They're more interested in the advance of technology than being able to score financial points?

Crazy Mozilla.

World War One Finally Ends

Thank God that's over.

Russ Feingold

The Netroots are basically putting together a red-alert push to try and save Senator Russ Feingold (D-WI), after polls indicate he's in more danger than Dems realized.

This cycle, I haven't been passionate at all about Democrats. Luckily, I don't have to be -- I'm in New York, where our only big election is whether to elect Slash-the-public-services Andrew Cuomo or Slash-the-public-services-and-by-the-way-I'm-crazy Carl Paladino.

But if I were a Wisconsin Democrat, I'd be really passionate about Russ Feingold. Not because Joe Lieberman might "control the senate" as Firedoglake put it, but because of Russ Feingold. Is he perfect? No. Is he a paragon of wisdom or intelligence? No.

But he's the Democratic party's Ron Paul; willing to stand up for principles regardless of whether people think he's crazy, or what the prevailing mood of the time.

Particularly, my respect for Feingold stems from the PATRIOT Act. We all remember that as the time when the Bush Administration overreached for power blah blah, but what we should also remember is that the US Senate voted 98-1 in its favor.

That 1? Russ Feingold:
We must grant law enforcement the tools that it needs to stop this terrible threat. But we must give them only those extraordinary tools that they need and that relate specifically to the task at hand.

In the play, “A Man for All Seasons,” Sir Thomas More questions the bounder Roper whether he would level the forest of English laws to punish the Devil. “What would you do?” More asks, “Cut a great road through the law to get after the Devil?” Roper affirms, “I’d cut down every law in England to do that.” To which More replies:

“And when the last law was down, and the Devil turned round on you – where would you hide, Roper, the laws all being flat? This country’s planted thick with laws from coast to coast . . . and if you cut them down . . . d’you really think you could stand upright in the winds that would blow then? Yes, I’d give the Devil benefit of law, for my own safety’s sake. ”

We must maintain our vigilance to preserve our laws and our basic rights.
That vote was a little more than a month after September 11th. Not a single one of his colleagues stood with him.

And he must have known that there was a 50/50 chance that this bill would come to be considered a crowning achievement of the Bush Administration, and like many of those "soft on crime" in previous years, he'd be battered about with ads showing how he would let another 9/11 happen because he's too afraid of the consequences of changing the law.

But he didn't. And his act was futile. He was willing to bring on himself all of the negative consequences without any of the positive rewards. He wasn't in a position like Ben Nelson on Health Care, where his opposition would have put him at the center of the debate. Instead, it put him at odds with his own party leadership, his own senatorial colleagues, and possibly his own voters. For nothing except principle.

Now, one senator is not just that one vote in that one moment. His actual legacy is more likely to be the mixed legacy of the McCain-Feingold Campaign Finance bill. But he's an important voice on the left and it would be a shame to let him go.

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Structure in Art

ArtsJournal links to Steven Berlin Johnson's thoughts about structure with the title "Are We Really Aware Of Structure In Art?" (an odd choice because the post doesn't ask that question, although it does discuss it). He says:
The funny thing about it is that I'm sure that people who enjoyed the book were in fact enjoying that deep structure; they just weren't fully aware of it. Maybe the best analogy isn't architectural, since you don't actually perceive the foundation of the building, even though it makes everything possible. Maybe a better analogy is music: I suspect most non-musicans aren't fully aware of chord changes the way they are conscious of melodies. Most of us can readily hum a tune from memory, but it's much harder to recall the chord progression. And yet the chords define the song as much as the melody does. Change the chords and the song changes dramatically.
Isaac is pondering the same thing. He offers up this passage in the book Tell It Slant:
While essays can be organized many ways-- through topic, chronology or passage of time-- organization through image and metaphor has become much more common. Clustering thoughts through images and loose associations (and metaphors are, at the most basic level, associations) seems fundamnetal to the way the human mind works. You may mentally jump from a look at a leaky faucet to a memory of watching the 1970s TV show "Charlie's Angels" because of the name of the actress Farrah Fawcett. You may then glide effortlessly from that thought to a sense memory of the powdered hot chocolate with marshmellows your mother made for you on weeknights while you watched television. As we grow more aware of and sophisticated about the way human consciousness operates, it makes sense that our literature will come closer to these basic thought rhythms.
And responds:
I've read essays that follow their author's minds down down down the neural pathways, that mimic the associative ways human consciousness work. They're boring when they're not bewildering because the different components don't resonate in a way that is meaningful to anyone other than their authors. It's telling that the example that follows this paragraph does not actually do what they're advocating here, but rather uses images to foreshadow an event in a narrative that progresses chronologically.
My feeling on structure is this: the brain collects information in two ways: one is the different pieces of information it provides, the other is the connections between them. These are equally important to the storage of information.

Structure in art is therefore important in terms of:
  1. The contexts and associations you form as you take in the work.
  2. How you'll retain this work later.
Right now, I'm reading Henry Miller's Tropic of Cancer. Narrative style is very much chaos, but there's a very subtle strong structure underneath it. There is a plot, it does move forward in time, but then it sidelines itself in chaotic rants.

That structure is there because it creates the world; it stymies the forward momentum, it creates the atmosphere inside Miller's head. When he gets lost in frothy rants, you almost lose him--and then he suddenly finds himself repeating a point, like a record suddenly skipping.

Because of the fast and loose association, there's a freedom afforded to Miller that a more plodding forward narrative wouldn't have. It creates Miller's mind, and creates the work. But there's enough structure to hold it together.

Richard Foreman creates works that have no discernible structure except image and theme. I would call him the theatrical fulfillment of Tell It Slant's image-based structure. It's definitely bewildering, and there's a lot that gets lost in translation for the reason Isaac lays out: the creator has different associations from me. But in a way, I can follow it, and on some level, I do feel like it works. But I freely understand if for other people it doesn't. It definitely feels hit and miss.

But the other effect of Foreman's style is that you have nothing to grab hold of afterwards. A few images might stick in your brain, but you don't remember exactly why or how. It's like an associative fog. Sounds and images, but nothing solid.

Foreman wants that (why? I don't know). He explicitly said in his book of essays (which sadly I don't have in front of me) that he doesn't want his audience to remember anything -- he wants it to be an experience in that room and that room only.

For me, that seems kind of useless. Why would I spend two hours or whatever of my time in a space that leaves me nothing? Nothing except shadows and mist?

Usually, structure just passes you by in the moment. but looking back, structure is what your mind hangs its hat on. If you want to remember a show, what do you do? You walk through the plot.

"Remember _________?"

"No, when was that?"

"It was after the King stabbed the Queen, and then he walks into the kitchen to makes a sandwich?"

"Oh yeah!"

Sunday, September 26, 2010

Don Lemon

Watching this video hurts a lot. Don Lemon is, I think, caught in a horrible position as a person. As a journalist, he wants to be objective. He wants to hear people out. And yet, in talking about pedophilia with these acolytes, he's literally confronting people who are echoing everyone who didn't listen to him in his past.

There's a subtle note of anger behind is voice in "Didn't you ever wonder how those stories were all the same?" The deliberatively slow pace, and the slow movement towards the end, is the power of his journalistic integrity, but he is himself and he can't excuse himself from the interview room. He doesn't make himself the center of the story, but he's there.

I don't have a lesson here. I just thought it was compelling.

Friday, September 24, 2010

King Abdullah II of Jordan

The Daily Show With Jon StewartMon - Thurs 11p / 10c
Exclusive - King Abdullah II of Jordan Extended Interview
Daily Show Full EpisodesPolitical HumorTea Party

King Abdullah II painted a fairly bleak picture of the Israel-Palestine relationship, and seems to me to forecast a war by year's end.

King Abdullah II is a very calm, intelligent, and well-educated leader. I think I mentioned in a previous post how pivotal Turkey is, but I also wish King Abdullah II, as a more moderate leader, would be more visible, particularly here in America where right now (if you haven't heard) people pretend that doesn't exist amongst Muslims.

Quick Take: Colbert on Capital Hill

Watched Colbert's testimony on Capital Hill. I think his presence there revealed what a farce congressional hearings are. They call a bunch of people there, spend most of their time talking. Colbert said maybe six or seven sentences, to questions which are mostly shoe-horning and grand-standing.

The point is that we hold "Hearings" where Congressmen don't hear. And this is actually easily fixable. If we had non-partisan chair-people (non-voting, paid by the federal government, civil servants) and restrictions on the sort of questions that you have over lawyers in a courtroom, congresspeople would be required to actually ask real questions, and they'd be forced to actually listen to real answers.

Colbert's only purpose there was to get people to tune in; Congress knew that, he knew that, and it's clear to us. But for the actual witnesses, their opinions were no more listened to than Colbert's. No wonder Congresspeople are so irritable -- how can they live with such a consistent, thorough wasting of their time?

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Legal Commentary: Gay Rights

Earlier this week, Don't Ask Don't Tell failed to pass in the senate after a filibuster by John McCain. But the wind isn't out of the sails of gay rights.

Tomorrow there's a major ruling in favor of gays expected from a Tacoma Federal Court:
Witt, a highly decorated flight nurse with 18 years of service, was fired for homosexual conduct in 2004. She contested her dismissal, arguing the action infringed on her constitutional rights.

The Air Force's attorneys presented the core of their case Tuesday morning, arguing that all military regulations must be enforced uniformly.
The Federal judge hearing the trial previously ruled in the case that Don't Ask Don't Tell was unconstitutional. The ruling was overruled, but the case was remanded for lower courts with instructions that the judge should re-hear the case, and rule based on whether the military had cause. The higher court explicitly said that she couldn't be fired just for being a lesbian.

If the likely ruling comes down against DADT (and judging by the few snippets quoted from the judge, I'd feel pretty safe to bet that it will), it will again be headed towards the Supreme Court.

For those of you counting at home, that means that the next term of the Supreme Court could include two major cases against Don't Ask Don't Tell, one major case against Proposition 8, and one major case against the Defense of Marriages Act.

How did this all happen in a year? Well, I think this quote from the current DADT trial spells it out:
James Lobsenz, Witt's attorney who presented the closing arguments in her case, expressed disbelief at the Air Force's contention that the Appeals Court had not put the burden of proof on them.

"Nobody in their right mind would think that the burden of proof rested anywhere else," Lobsenz said.
This is, actually, a pretty extreme shift in legal thinking, but one which quietly has taken place. Previously, the level of bigotry in this nation was such that from a legal perspective, it was "obvious" why homosexuals were treated differently. The burden of proof was on homosexuals to prove why they should be treated equally. They managed it in Lawrence v. Texas by demonstrating that their bedrooms are their private concerns; but in the public sphere, it was largely uncontested that they had to prove their equality.

Now, however, federal courts in both the north-East and along the Pacific, as well as some state courts in the Mid-west, have finally tipped over.

The question, however, is whether the Supreme Court has tipped on this issue. I think it has; I think that Kennedy, Kagan, Sotomayor, Ginsberg, and Breyer will treat discrimination against homosexuals skeptically. In fact, I'm not unconvinced that Roberts and Alito may also be skeptical; they don't have much of a paper trail on gay rights (although after these cases, we will unequivocally know their opinions). Alito once called for decriminalization of sodomy (in the 1970s).

But let's see what happens.

Legal Commentary: Quote of the Day

“In thousands of cases, canines and their handlers have performed with distinction. Despite this success, we acknowledge the invariable truth espoused by Justice Souter that ‘[t]he infallible dog, however, is a creature of legal fiction.’”

- Texas Court of Criminal Appeals, dismissing a murder conviction that was based on evidence from police-trained dogs.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Review: Fat Kids on Fire

Pipeline Theatre's
Remaining performances:
September 23-25 @8PM
September 26 @ 3PM
September 29 - October 2 @ 8PM

Wings Theatre
154 Christopher St.

"Solitary, poor, nasty, brutish and short." That's the state of nature put forward by Thomas Hobbes, and it's also how Bekah Brunsetter's Fat Kids On Fire examines the world of fat camp for teenagers.


Fat Kids On Fire is a pretty solidly constructed story about a group of kids who, for various reasons, wind up in a fat camp named "New Images." It's full of a group of camp regulars who are always there, trying to grin cheerily past their sorrows.

There's Cindy (Nicole Spiezio), a very large girl named "The Mound," who everyone stays away from as possible -- partly because of her hygiene, partly because of her size, and partly because of her tendency to ramble on about her father who died in a tornado eight years before. There's Scott (John Early), an energetic wiggah abandoned for unspecified reasons by his parents, who just wants to make out. Bridger (Mike Steinmetz), the J.D. Salinger-esque loner who is rumored to have threatened to blow up a school and leers at women. And more.

Into this set group of people comes Bess (Sydney Matthews), a girl who is used to being snubbed by the popular girl at school, Claire (Andi Potamkin), and sees the camp as a chance to remake herself as someone new and worth liking. She wants to get into the pants of camp counselor Mark (Shane Zeigler) before summer is out, and maybe be Camp Princess to boot.

If you think this all sounds like the set-up to Glee, then you're not prepared for any of what's about to unfold. The tone may be light and peppy, buoyed along by high energy and jokes, but there's a deep vein of cruelty and pain that's the real center of this piece.

Take, for instance, Cindy. She could be a cipher for every "unpopular fat girl" stereotype you could level to make. And, in the hands of the wrong actress, she could be. But Nicole Spiezio keeps her eyes on the prize: the passionately tender monologues to her dead father make the audience laugh, but her pain is palpable.

In fact, in general the jokes come alongside cruelty. Each joke has sharp, sharp teeth; there's barely a joke in the show that doesn't draw someone's blood. At the center of all of this is Bess -- and Sydney does an admirable job balancing cruelty with innocence, glee with pain, and emotional hardship with the sort of energy and forward motion that keeps the play moving.

Make no mistake: this is a play not about fat, or about innocent girlish summers, but about that one word, cruelty. At one point, Nurse Joy (Blair Ross; the head of the camp) tells Bess that she doesn't understand what cruelty really means. And that's why it's worth revisiting the awkward, uncomfortable years of puberty in this play: because we really didn't understand what cruelty and pain meant back then.

What the play has the opportunity to do, and what director Peter Frechette really should have tried to do more, was to draw more heavily from Artaud's theater of cruelty. The play seems to be dying for it, but the direction feels more like a realist play; as such, the difference (the brutish cruelty at the heart of everything) doesn't get underlined as strongly as it could be. This isn't Camp, it's not High School Musical, it's not Lizzy McGuire; it's a very bitter play that looks like a peppy high school melodrama.

For instance, let's get straight to it: Artaud might have loved the use of the sound in this play. Characters are constantly talking not for the purposes of connecting, but to desperately assert their existences -- whole monologues of blather as characters desperately try to use words to overcome the distance between themselves and their friends. The sounds of voices are also key; Nicole's Cindy, if words are removed, sounds as though she's letting loose a deep moan of grief, and Sydney's nervous laugh in parts creates an apt sense of hysteria as she accelerates towards her own mistakes.

Artaud would also have approved of the cruel use of the human body in this play. No, it's not writhing and screaming the way Artaud might have directed it, it's something subtler than that. Let me show you what I mean.

Here's Claire (left) and Bess (right):

Here's Cindy (left) and Bess (right):

Bess, as the central character in the plot, is (importantly) median in weight. Being the first character we see, and being right in the middle of weight, the other character project like crazy onto her, and she projects onto herself. We see as Claire belittles her, she hides herself and feels fat. When she arrives at New Images, everyone refers to her as being the thin person. She expresses her surprise, and Nurse Joy bitingly adds: "comparatively thin."

The so-called "imperfections" of bodies are constantly being played up or played down according to the relationships between the characters. And almost always, the characters wind up using it for cruelty. At the end of the day, Bess ridicules Cindy for her weight; Claire never treats Bess with respect. To the audience, it has the tenor of madness -- and in fact it becomes madness fairly quickly in the play.

The questioning of this hierarchy only comes once. I won't spoil the whole scene, but suffice it to say that in one moment, Bess is waiting for Mark (whose hairless chest and well-sculpted body we've already been treated to before), but is instead confronted with Bridger, who for the first time discards his trench-coat, hat, and shirt:

Because of the focus on the body, the difference between his body and Mark's is clear as night and day; he speaks about the image of love only being able to exist between two young people who are still beautiful, and how as we age we drift apart towards divorce -- a bleak, cruel image of the world. Bess offers an alternative, briefly -- until Mark arrives. Then she passes judgment on his body ("Gross!") and he flees in shame.

To use the human body as a lever to shame the human soul is deeply, intensely cruel; and it speaks to the fatalism at the bottom of the piece. Note, by the way, that it is not actually necessary for any of the characters to be unattractive for their body to be used as a lever. But our own insecurities makes our body image flip to whatever the people around us seem to think.

I have in my life, personally, been accused both of anorexia and of being overweight; I've been put on a diet and had people force me to eat food. I've been told I have high cholesterol, and that my cholesterol is too low to count. And through all of that time, my weight has only ever moved by ten to fifteen pounds in either direction. Looking back, it's clear that even slight changes (five pounds) could be used cruelly and casually by the people around us. Hell, on Monday night I had a complete stranger tell me I did a crappy job shaving, and I wanted to hide my face for the evening.

The cruelest part of the play, though is that in the end, nobody seems to overcome the mistakes they make driven by their bodies; their body either collapses, or their spirit breaks. Nature proves to be nasty, brutish, and short; nobody seems to escape.

A little non-Pipeline related sidebar; the Guardian's online theater blog had a post recently called "Pecs vs. Performance" that raised a question about attractiveness in reviewing:
Most people, at some point, must have lusted after a performer when the house lights go down. But if a critic does the same, we cringe. Are we being too judgmental?
The question is, to what degree do the aesthetic looks of the actor have to do with quality of the work as a whole? At one point, the writer (Matt Trueman) says:
One might object, however, that attraction still cannot be subject to critical discussion. We can't debate about attraction; we can merely disagree. You can't change my mind about which performer I find attractive, no matter how stringent your argument. Does the impossibility of dialogue exclude it from judgment? Well, no. We'll readily admit that aesthetic judgments are subjective, and that the emotional effects of a particular production are equally immune to authority and debate. If our melancholy or amusement can be legitimate grounds for judgment, then why not our feelings of attraction?
The answer which I was planning on writing, and which this review provides a perfect springboard, is to say this: the physical qualities of the performers are not, in and of themselves, useful information. The usefulness of the information is how does it effect the play.

Suppose George Clooney were to be cast in Waiting for Godot. And suppose you just phase out and just watch his dreamy face the whole time, and don't mind that he's not a very good Estragon. Should the reviewer mention that Clooney is a hot piece of manflesh? Probably not.

But for this production, weight was clearly being leveraged as a tool of cruelty. The shape of Mark's abs versus Bridger's was clearly being leveraged as a tool of cruelty. If both of them had been the same, it would have taken away from a key moment. It was an aesthetic choice as much as the lights were.

I've used this review as an excuse to talk about the performer in criticism, and to project some Artaud onto the production. So some last points about the show: it was a delightfully solid show that could have used with some stronger direction to make sure that it's always distinct from the sort of sappy, high school coming-of-age story that it truly is not. Instead, what makes it not that story are the great performances of each one of the actors and actresses, even the ones who didn't get name-checked by me.

(Disclaimer: The FCC requires me to disclose that I got a free ticket to the show. I think it also requires me to disclose that I was given a CD with some pictures on it and a few pieces of paper, the sum total of whose value is probably immaterial but do have some value, and therefore might have swayed my judgement I suppose.

As usual, I am not required to disclose the fact that my theater company Organs of State is sharing space -- and therefore financial arrangements -- with Pipeline Theatre company; I have crushes on way too many people there, have made out with one of them although it was in a play, have given a flower to another one.

Daniel Johnsen, the artistic director, programmed our lights and ran our concessions without us having any expectations for him to do so, simply because he's a top-class guy. I share one company member with his company. My review of Shakespeare the Dead is quoted in the lobby, which in addition to the press packet appeals to my vanity as a blogger to no end. Many of their company members subscribe to this blog, which probably makes them a majority of blog readers. They also promote this blog every time I review them, making them impromptu street team members.

Of course, the FCC doesn't care about all of that, because they don't imagine that any of those links would influence me nearly as much as the $18 ticket that was waived to me in return for this review.

What a stupid, stupid system we have.)

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

The End

Opens tonight!

Tea Party Musings pt. 2

Courtesy Nate Silver.

(I feel like I should have done something more special for post #600, but... nah.)

Monday, September 20, 2010

The Ethical/Unethical Artist

From Isaac's anti-Rockstar-attitude discussion (a very cheap summation of it), comes the question:
[The rockstar conversation] brings up some other issues that may be worth talking about here: the meaning and value of the image in art and in life (particularly the image of the artist); whether or not an ethical artist (i.e., a nice guy)creates better work than an unethical one (i.e., a preening asshole)--or put another way, whether, for the good of one's work, it is better to be nice than an asshole.
If I wasn't in the middle of the show, I'd write at length, but instead I'll just put out one point.

If we lived in a much more supportive environment -- read: indulgent -- for artists, then maybe the unethical artist could win. After all, rock-stars get ridiculously wealthy and can support themselves, therefore they can be big enfants terribles and there's no problem.

In the interdependent world of theater, however, for most artists their reputation is their business. I cast shows based on working relationships, based on how people relate to each other, more than I cast shows based on an audition, or based on some incredible success in their past.

If someone arrives with some incredible bullshit behind them, or with a reputation as being selfish, egotistical, or a poor team player, I will overlook them. Hell, if someone has a reputation for being consistently late, I will usually move on to more reliable folks.

Therefore, on the practical level, the answer is that the ethical artist will create much better work than the unethical artist. They'll work with better people, more people, and get more support -- support being the watch-word we live by. They'll build an audience better, build an ensemble better, and in the end it will make their work better.

Guy Pimps Himself Out Again

From time to time, I take to this blog to remind you readers that I really am primarily a theatermaker, in that I make theater. Well, this week and next you have some prime opportunities to see me in action:

Pipeline Theater company, who I reviewed here, is organizing their second Brave New Works evening of new works tonight at 8PM, at The Wings Theater (154 Christopher St). I'm going to be performing a one-person clown act there, so don't miss it! Full details here.

Our own show opens tomorrow night. It's a show I wrote and am performing in, a post-apocalyptic film noir unrequited homosexual love story. Eagle-eyed readers will note that we performed an early version of this at the last Brave New Works; this is a full-length version, and we're very proud of our work.

Performances are tomorrow night, as well as next Monday and Tuesday at 8PM at The Wings Theater (154 Christopher Street). Information at our website.

Facebook Doesn't Think Well Of Itself

Why does Facebook get so insecure about itself? It made some minor changes to its interface that basically replicates the Tumblr dashboard: you have to select what sort of post you want to make before you make it (post, link, etc.).


I mean, I don't have an emotional response one way or the other. But it's like, yet again, Facebook looked at another website and went "OH NO PEOPLE ARE DOING IT SOME OTHER WAY WE NEED TO DO WHAT THEY DO."

Sometimes two companies can be popular for different reasons.

I'm not going to shoe-horn that into a lesson about arts management, I think you can do that on you own.

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Tea Party Musings

In the 1950s, the Republican party was largely full of elite (some would say elitist), moderate businessmen typified by the Rockefellers. In the 1960s, a growing movement of discontented populists, who in the 1910s and 1920s were part of the Southern Democratic caucus but were pushed out by the Democratic Party starting from FDR and ending with LBJ's championing of civil rights.

The populists were not swayed by the moderate, elitist conservatives like Nelson Rockefeller, so they coalesced behind Barry Goldwater in 1964, taking the nomination and losing the election. Populism had beat the moderate conservatism, but it wasn't able to sell itself to the general election.

From 1964 onwards, the history of the Republican Party has in part been a fight between the moderate elite conservatives and the populist conservatives.

Ronald Reagan, in 1980, represented a truce: he created a platform that managed to appeal both to the populists and to the elite conservatives; free business principles, socially conservative principles. Largely a response to the Soviet Union and to American left-wing liberalism, they managed to build a coalition, and dominate their opponents. But George H. W. Bush was too far on the elite side, and Clinton ate away from the populism.

As the opposition changed its face, the truce kind of fell apart, and was especially destroyed under the George W. Bush era.

2008 Primaries. The elite had Mitt Romney, populists had Mike Huckabee, and somewhere in the spongy middle was McCain. McCain was a chance to try and rebuild the truce; his running mate, Sarah Palin, was supposed to bridge him with the populist wing, which he had more trouble with.

It was a failure of a campaign, and both sides fell into recriminations. Had Palin been an embarassment? Had McCain failed to live up to "true conservatism?"

That's the fight that's playing out right now. It's a battle for the soul of the Republican Party. Which caucus is going to win: the ailing, but often more electable elite wing (which at this point really isn't moderate at all), or the passionate, grassroots-fed populist wing?

The 2010 Midterms are not going to be a referendum on Obama, they're going to be a referendum on the soul of the Republican Party. If a series of Tea Party candidates, fresh out of their primary upsets, get some seats and establish themselves a serious movement (not just a right-wing spoiler fringe, like Nader was accused of being for the left), then the days are numbered for the remaining elites in the Republican party. Sarah Palin will become the party. You'll see a lot of people who previously were resisting the Tea Party movement getting sidelined; the Republican Elite will stop fighting the Tea Party movement. And the party might select Palin as their candidate for 2012.

On the other hand, if the Tea Party fails to materialize gains in 2010, the wind is going to be behind the sails of their opponents. The lobbyist-elite wing will start vetting new "GOP's great hope" characters, and trying to build momentum behind them. (This month's "honest intelligent conservative" narrative is around Mitch Daniels, Governor of Indiana, who state point blank "at some point we're going to have to raise taxes" and has the backing of The Economist, an elite conservative but excellent publication).

I don't know the future. But I think this fight between the elites and the "great unwashed" populism is going to be a historical turning point for the Republican party, and for the country as a whole.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010


Quick fact: apparently, arts used to be part of the Olympics (sculpting, engraving, etc.) but were removed because they were professionals as opposed to the sportsmen, who were amateurs.

I know we have the Cultural Olympiad, but I say we fight to get our Olympic Events back.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

This Week In Fucked Up Powerpoint News

The Pentagon wins again.


NYTimes has the scoop on a celebrated civil rights photographer who, it turns out, was an FBI informant.

When I was in the Czech republic, there was a much more sustained and complex conversation around this topic, which was actually blown open when it turned out that Milan Kundera was allegedly a communist informant. Many, including the former President Vaclav Havel were of the opinion that it was all water under the bridge; others, including my (bitter) professor Jan Havel (who co-founded the Civic Forum) felt that the truth had to come out.

There's a pretty vast difference between the Czech Republic, which was pretty brutal in its handling of dissidents, and the United States, who monitored dissidents but (on the Federal level) didn't seem to act much. At the same time, since the McCarthy era, there has been negative association with helping the FBI monitor dissidents and free-thinkers (not, though, helping the FBI track down rapists or counterfitters, etc.). Think back to Elia Kazan and others.

Just worth reflecting on.

Monday, September 13, 2010

Quote of the Day

"It is the unanimous view of the House of Representatives that his conduct is not only wrong but so violative of the public trust that he cannot be allowed to remain on the bench without making a mockery of the court system."

-- Representative Adam Schiff (D-CA), opening statement to Senate impeachment panel asking for an impeachment of a Federal Judge in New Orleans.


In under-reported but very fascinating news, the Prime Minister of Turkey has won a fairly decisive victory in the form of Constitutional amendments weakening the military and the courts.

I just want to say that Turkey continues to be a fascinating player in the Middle East, as this vote pretty handily illustrates. There are so many competing interests, so it is difficult to figure out where to place Turkey on the "with us" or "agin us" scale.

Case in point:
  1. Prime Minister Erdogan is head of a religious Muslim party.

  2. Turkey has a strange Constitution that uses the military as another branch of government, which checks the power of the Executive.

  3. Turkey's military has been instrumental in protecting the secular nature of the nation, whereas Erdogan's party has tried to increase the reach of religion in the nation.

  4. The Turkish military is uncomfortable with Erdogan, and there have been rumors and investigations into coup plots, although nothing particularly substantive emerged.

  5. This election marks 30 years to the day since the military coup in 1980 that brought three years of military control, which largely stabilized the country after a spate of political killings, but curtailed the political rights of the nation for a while.

  6. The E.U. pressed for these reforms, so their victory increases the chance of Turkey joining the E.U. (although many barriers remain, including Germany's resistance to opening up to immigration from Turkey).

  7. This means that the E.U. has increased the democracy in Turkey (by weakening the military), but it has also increased the power of the religious Muslim party.

  8. Also, lately, Turkey has become closer to Iran and more distant from Israel thanks to the terrible foreign policy of Netenyahu's party, and the horrible Avigdor Lieberman.

  9. The United States is uncomfortable with Turkey's relationship to Iran, unhappy with its divisions from Israel.

  10. The United States has also relied heavily on logistical support from Turkey for the War in Iraq, making it a key military ally. Hence our inability to call a spade a spade, where the Armenian Genocide is concerned.

  11. However, Turkey has also complicated our endeavour in Iraq, thanks to their invasion of Kurdistan in 2008, sparked by Kurdish separatist group the PKK. At the time, President Bush was between Iraq and a hard place (ha ha) thanks to his pretty vehement belief that nations have the right to strike against nations that harbor terrorists.
So, Turkey: closer to Iran, or to the European Union? Are its interests aligned with the United States?

Clearly, there's no one answer. They're a pluralist democracy outside of Christian Europe, mired in the complex geopolitics of the Middle East but with diplomatic and trade ties with the West. All of which makes for a fascinating nation.

Friday, September 10, 2010

The Most Amazing Video Ever

Okay, I'm deeply upset that this video isn't embeddable, BUT STILL you HAVE to watch this video of an Olympic competitor from Equatorial Guinea, a nation that does not have a pool. He learned how to swim 8 months before the Olympics and had never seen an Olympic pool until he got to the Olympics:

Beautiful. This is my Susan Boyle moment for sports.

Legal Commentary: Gay Rights Quickie

What's amazing about that is that, after years and years of Federal courts punting on gay issues, Federal courts have, in the last few months, overruled:
  1. The Defense of Marriages Act
  2. Proposition 8
  3. Don't Ask Don't Tell
And because of the timing, all three cases will be appealed to the Supreme Court probably at very similar times. At this point, the Supreme Court is going to be forced to consider once and for all the very methodical case put forward by the Judge in Proposition 8: is discrimination of homosexuals in terms of family structure and employment in any way justified.

If the Supreme Court rules against homosexuality (see: Dredd Scott or Plessy v. Fergussen), it may be years and years before the High Court is willing to hear the issue again. Here is the fear: in a time where the Court leans 5-4 towards conservatism, the risk of temporarily crippling the advance of gay rights is enough to make me nervous.

On the other hand, the swing vote (Justice Kennedy) voted in favor of gay rights previously in Lawrence v. Texas; the opinion in the Prop 8 case was very, very stacked against the pro-discrimination group, and particularly used Scalia's words in that case to back up its decision. If the conservative-libertarian case for gay rights appeals to the conservative-libertarians on the court (we can write off Clarence Thomas...) then we could have a quick succession of highly important, nation-wide, unequivocal cases in favor of gay rights.

Stay tuned!

Thursday, September 9, 2010


From a New York Times Op-Ed:
When this sort of thing happens, it is important to remember that about 5 percent of our population is and always will be totally crazy. I don’t mean mentally ill. According to the National Institute for Mental Health, 26 percent of American adults suffer from a diagnosable mental disorder in any given year. So, basically, that’s just normal life. I mean crazy in the sense of “Thinks it is a good plan to joke with the flight attendant about seeing a bomb in the restroom.”
26% is mentally ill? That puts 19% thinking Obama is a Muslim in quite a different light.

I like the "So, basically, that's just normal life." I wonder if I'm part of the 26%.


I'm currently reading Leon Lederman's excellent, excellent book: The God Particle. It's a history of particle physics, largely to explain the search for the Higgs Boson particle, which CERN is currently looking for with that big supercollider that has a chance of wiping out the universe (but pretty much won't).

Still reading? Good. This is actually a post about Theater.

Here's what Leon Lederman (Nobel Laureate!) has to say about Aristotle:

When a scientist, say of the British persuasion, is really, really angry at someone and is driven to the extremes of expletives, he will say under his breath, "Bloody Aristotelian." Them's fighting words, and a deadlier insult is hard to imagine. Aristotle is generally credited (probably unreasonably) with holding up the progress of physics for about 2,000 years -- until Galileo had the courage and conviction to call him out... Galileo saved his contempt, not for Aristotle, but for the generations of philosophers who worshiped at Aristotle's temple and accepted his views without question.

I wonder what Lederman would say if he knew that the Aristotelian of tragedy as a catharsis born of empathy is still the core pillar of American theatrical theory? That it formed the center of The Method, and The Method became the center of the American theater? (I bet he'd probably turn up his nose at the idea of any method being called The Method without explicitly dispelling all other methods).

At my university, I was lucky to be exposed to a variety of alternatives to Aristotle: my hero Brecht, my nemeses the post-modern theorists, Antonin Artaud, Grotowski etc.

In the world of particle physics, Lederman holds up the Greek philosopher Democritus as the Ancient Greek father of particle physics; he coined the term 'a-tom' as some building block of the universe too small to be divided. We accidentally attached it to the atom, which unfortunately is cuttable; but nevertheless, Democritus' core insight remains valid.

So, blogosphere and readership: if we threw Aristotle out today (not that I necessarily say that we should) who would you put in his place? Another way of asking is this: what theater theorist would you say hit closest to the truth? What central insight about theater holds true for you?
There were a lot of words in that post. Palate cleanser:

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Two Upcoming Performances

Hi blog-followers. You may know me as someone who occasionally pontificates about theater, or occasionally pontificates about politics, or just some dude on my internet. However: I am also a performer and a writer (with my company), and later this month I will be doing both things.

Our clown-in-residence, Bordello, will be entertaining an audience with acts of magic, song, delight, and maybe even love. Maybe even love. Presented as part of Pipeline Theatre's Brave New Works evening on September 20th: short performances by 9 different theater companies, including ours. Dates, times, and location here.

THE END: a post-apocalyptic film noir unrequited homosexual love story.
lights up. the world has ended. two men are left behind, with nothing but a dead cat, a broken globe, and each other for the rest of eternity. the mystery begins. Will be performed on the September 21st, 27th, and 28th. Tickets and information here.

We'd love to give you the opportunity to participate!

You can donate now by visiting our project page. All donations through are fully tax deductible, and proceeds go directly to the shows listed above. Different levels of contribution get different levels of perks – go and see what's available!

I'd love to see you there -- make sure to introduce yourself afterwards if you're a reader of this blog!

Socialized Medicine

Okay, so, I am a staunch supporter of socialized health care. I think the state should help support people's health needs.

However, when people are afraid of "socialized medicine," I think what they're terrified of is this:
"Brent’s 81-year-old wife, Dolores, was admitted to the hospital in Trail, in southeastern B.C. near the border with Washington, in August 2009 after suffering a heart attack.

After she recovered, her husband told hospital staff he wanted to take her back to their home in nearby Montrose.

Instead, the hospital moved her into its long-term care wing, saying she was too frail to leave.

“She would ask me every day, ‘When can I get out of here?’” Brent said. “They stated that I wouldn’t be allowed to take her home.”

In the long-term care wing, Dolores Brent’s health deteriorated. She suffered a stroke, and dementia set in."


What ensued was protracted battle between health authorities and George Brent over the care of his wife. Brent, who still wanted to take Delores to their home, complained of the care she received in the long-term care wing of the hospital claiming that he and his daughter, “often found Dolores parched, cold, tied to her wheelchair or even sitting in her own waste.”

Eventually, feeling his complaints weren’t being addressed, Brent resorted to refusing to pay the medical bills that the hospital sent him. That’s when the province stepped in.

If you have ever felt angry at someone for being against "socialized medicine," read the whole thing.

This article does not mean you need to change your opinion about publicly supported health care. But you do have to spend some time realizing that there are some legitimate fears about government involvement in health care.

The more you build in controls to health care to prevent this sort of shit from happening, the more solid you can be in your support of it. We need to look this article right in the eye.

Brian Beutler Redoes the Classics

I subscribed to Brian Beutler's RSS feed ages ago, and for a while I forgot about it because there was no new content.

But now, for some reason I can't fathom, it's reposting, in order, Brian Beutler's posts from the 2008 Election. For instance, today in Brian-Beutler-land, Hilary Clinton just won the New Hampshire Primary -- just after Beutler was talking yesterday about the strength of Obama and Huckabee's campaigns!

The feed is here if you want to relive the 2008 campaign in real time. Trust me: it's a lot more relaxing when you know how it ends.

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Atheism FTW

Unless someone knows something I don't know, I present to you the world's first elected Atheist head of state.

(I say elected because the Communist heads-of-state are, nominally, Atheists... not great role-models, though)

Thursday, September 2, 2010


  1. I have started to see "vacay" in popular usage. Stop. Please, please stop. I'd prefer not to go postal on everyone.

  2. Between deadlines at work, moving, and Hurricane Earl (I'm flying on Friday), I think various pressures have been trying to get me to take a vacation from this blog. I will obliged. See you next Tuesday when hopefully I'll be back in New York in a fully unpacked apartment...

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Koch pt. 2

Dave Weigel, the independent libertarian blogger, provides some context for Koch:
The point: the Kochs have successfully, over the course of 30 years, funded a powerful libertarian infrastructure. The funny thing is that until mid-2009 or so, other libertarians hated that infrastructure. The loudest critics of the Kochs used to be "paleolibertarians," adherents of the economist Murray Rothbard, who feuded with the Kochs and accused them and their beneficiaries of being suckers for the state. Their blanket term for us: the "Kochtopus."


Until the tea party movement started rolling, many libertarians were convinced that the Kochs were throwing money down a rathole, supporting "statist" organizations that were collaborating with, not challenging, power. This is why us Orange Line mafiosos are so surprised to see the Kochs exposed as the Saurons of libertarianism.

Doesn't particularly change the criticisms of Koch in my eyes (since I'm not a libertarian), but it's a useful run-down of where Koch fits into the right-wing movement.

Oh, and Weigel also posts the Kochs' letter of defense. From the letter:
Even the title of the article is a mischaracterization. It accuses the Kochs of being "covert" in their support of free markets. The Charles G. Koch Charitable Foundation's and Koch Industries' websites, along with many other publicly available documents, clearly state the philosophies and institutions we support. Indeed, Koch Industries has repeatedly acknowledged that David Koch is Chairman of the Board of the Americans for Prosperity Foundation. David's participation in a recent AFP event was televised on C-SPAN and reported in several articles. This is hardly a "covert" approach. Allegations of "hidden" or "underground" activities, a recurring theme throughout the article and stories that have followed it, are belied by the extensive public record referenced in them. Meanwhile, the New Yorker quotes numerous unnamed sources to attack the Kochs.


David Koch is a cancer survivor who has donated hundreds of millions of dollars toward cancer research. The article gives short shrift to his commitment to supporting medical and scientific research to help save lives. Instead, it makes the assertion that David Koch has a conflict of interest regarding the regulation of formaldehyde because he sits on the National Cancer Institute's national advisory board. His role on the board has nothing to do with NCI making scientific recommendations or approvals regarding industrial products. In fact, during his six years on the NCI national cancer advisory board, he has never engaged in a discussion of formaldehyde.

Unfortunately, some of those who disagree with a market-based point of view continue to try to demonize the Kochs' 40 years of unwavering, well-known, lawful and principled commitment to economic freedom and market-based policy solutions. The Kochs have steadfastly supported the benefits of economic freedom, the importance of the rule of law, private property rights, the proper and limited role of government in society and warned against the perils of excessive government spending. We see escalating efforts to discount and mischaracterize important and authentic citizen efforts, as well as dismiss and degrade our support of education and human services programs.
I have to say, they're right that the Kochtopus' support for the right wing is by no means a secret.

(Update: After rereading the article, I realize it made it look as though Wiegel was defending Koch. I've changed the introduction line to make it more apparent that Wiegel was quoting the letter.)

Israel's Arts Boycott Pt. 2

XKCD joins the boycott: