Thursday, June 30, 2011

PRIMARY DOC: Colbert's FEC Response Video

Sorry, forgot to show you the video! It's also a primary doc.

Here's what winning looks like:

And here was his response:

PRIMARY DOC: Colbert's FEC Response

Hey everyone, remember how Stephen Colbert was forming a SuperPAC? Well, he just got his permission from the FEC. There's a danger that Colbert will set a precedent that will allow FOX to sponsor Sarah Palin's SuperPAC in a more direct way, but, hell, it's not like they were constrained before.

I just hope that Congress gets so embarrassed that they close the SuperPAC loophole.

At any rate, to celebrate, I wanted to share Stephen Colbert's lawyer's responses to the FEC, to illustrate a few things.


If you look through the questions, there isn't a very clear theme as to what the FEC is trying to prevent. But there is one question that basically asks whether Colbert is serious:
"Is the continued operation of Colbert Super PAC's website and activities dependent on the show? If the show stopped covering Colbert Super PAC because it was thought to be stale or no longer funny, would Viacom cease providing support to it?"
It's a bit ridiculous of a question -- I mean, does anyone think SarahPAC would continue to operate if Sarah Palin died or got bored?

Otherwise, their questions about the Super PAC's independence from the show are pretty standard -- who will own Colbert Super PAC's intellectual property (answer: Super PAC will own the logo and any "off-air" content; Viacom will own anything broadcast on-air), who has editorial control (Stephen Colbert, although if he really pissed Viacom off they could just fire him and take away the money), who has access to the material (not just Viacom).

The one place where they do make a legitimate point is when they ask what happens if Federal candidates for the Presidency come on the show. My hunch is that now that Colbert's Super PAC exists, he will not have any presidential candidates on the show. The legal interaction sounds a bit of a headache.


More illuminating, actually, is the lawyer recounting what Colbert has done previously where his political activity has been subject of the show:

Mr. Colbert, as host of The Colbert Report, considers the segments about his political activity an essential and unique aspect of the show. As Mr. Colbert stated in a recent media interview, "[w]e throw ourselves into the pond of the news, and then we report on our own ripples."

To that end, Mr. Colbert has placed himself in positions where his off-set actions and experiences can serve as material for the show. The Advisory Opinion Request provided the examples of the Mr. Colbert's "Hail to the Cheese Stephen Colbert Nacho Cheese Doritos 2008 Presidential Campaign" and the "Rally to Restore Sanity and/or Fear" that he co-hosted with Jon Stewart in October 2010.' In addition to those two examples. The Colbert Report has featured Mr. Colbert's off-set activities on many occasions, including his congressional testimony on immigration, his U.S.O. Tour to Baghdad, his public dispute with the Associated Press about the word "truthiness," and his sponsorship of the U.S. Speedskating Team.

When you lay it out like that, you can see that Colbert has a strategy of overlaying his political activity and the lens of the show.


So why did Colbert win? Because it's incredibly subjective, and the FEC appear to have a sense of humor.

For contrast, Stephen Colbert wanted to naturalize citizens on his show, but even though Homeland Security approved it, the White House vetoed the idea. Why? Because they thought he would make a mockery of the evening. In other words, they find him offensive.

Nancy Pelosi also doesn't think Colbert adds value: she and Rahm Emanuel (back when he was in the House) told Democrats not to go on the Colbert Report.

There's no real reason why the FEC couldn't go the same way. In fact, if this process has highlighted anything, it's highlighted how subjective these instruments are. There's no fine line between Viacom and Colbert Super PAC. There's no fine line between The Colbert Report and Colbert Super PAC. And if the same relationship existed at FOX -- oh wait, it does -- there's no real way to disentangle them. It's all subjective.

RESPONSE: Copyright or Wrong pt.1 - Civil Disobedience

Uh oh. Some wrote a long and passionate post about how their show got taken down by copyright:

Due to certain artistic choices implemented by myself – the director – Boxcar’s production of Little Shop of Horrors has been closed by the organization that owns and licenses the rights. This was effective immediately. I do not hold the licensing organization accountable for doing their job.

The production I created violated the terms and conditions set forth by the contract my company signed to license the show. I made alterations and changes to Alan Menken and Howard Ashman’s script. I took elements from the original 1960 film version of Little Shop of Horrors directed by Roger Corman and combined them with the original 1982 off-Broadway musical as well as the 1986 film version. I borrowed from Rocky Horror Picture Show and wrote bits of dialogue myself to help blend the material seamlessly. These changes prompted many to buy tickets, garnered us rave reviews and sold out houses. It was certainly these changes that caught the eye of who wrote a compelling article regarding my concepts. And it was that article that instantly drew attention to our production by the licensing company.

He goes on to tell the story in detail. And then got some very angry responses For instance:

But take copywright laws up with the relevant people and stop bitching, moaning and producing illegal productions until the laws change. And stop looking for support from the theatrical community. It’s embarrassing.

When it comes to copyright law, I very strongly disagree. The copyright law that exists comes from extremely powerful players with extremely deep pockets (most of whom are named Disney), and the odds that an independent theater on its own will turn the tide of copyright in the next decade is improbable. There is plenty of work that I cannot legally do at the current moment, and I refuse to take a big stack of my work and set it aside, and wait until the laws change. Sure, we should work through legal avenues to try and change the law.

But if there is a law that is completely out of all proportion and it has a negative impact on the community, I say you should go ahead and do it. It's civil disobedience, and it's important. You get your ducks in a row, you only fight the battles you believe in, but if you think this is the work you should be fighting for: fight for it.

And then we do look to each other for support, because if we can convince each other that copyright law is incorrect, we could maybe build up the momentum to actually change the law.

“I entered into an agreement. I knew those terms and I knowingly broke those terms. Now I’m sad there were repercussions”.

Better summed up as "I entered into an agreement because of legal constraints. I knew those terms and I knowingly broke those terms. I understand the repercussions, but would like to use them to highlight the legal constraint."

* The quality of Boxcar’s production is completely and utterly beside the point.

Actually, no it's not. When we're talking about the validity of laws, we're balancing the rights of individuals against what benefits society at large. If we believe that good art benefits society -- and if not, you're probably not reading an arts policy blog, are you? -- then the fact that good work comes out of copyright violations is relevant.

For instance, one of my greatest frustrations was that the play Architecting, one of the finest plays I've ever seen in my life, can't be published because some of the characters and some of the passages are taken from Gone with the Wind. It's not in any way a copy of Gone with the Wind, and it could never be confused for Gone with the Wind. But because it's an "idea" that's "owned" -- not by the original writer, but by University of the South -- and because that idea is owned for 95 years plus the author's life -- I'll never own that play.

Is defending the revenue of University of the South a better social outcome than allowing a beautiful and inventive new work to be preserved? Obviously if the play were worthless, it would be more important to defend the revenue. But the fact that banning such work is a loss -- a loss of good work -- is relevant.

* Perhaps all of this nonsense could have been avoided in the first place if Olivero had submitted his concept to Samuel French (I think they hold the rights but it’s been a long time since I directed my own production–whoever holds them now) and asked for some kind of waiver beforehand.

In my experience, probably not. Unless you have lots of money to really buy the license for the play -- like, if you've got $10,000+ to pay for those rights -- asking for permission just attracts their attention, and thus makes it impossible to skirt the law.


Earlier in the year, the Supreme Court ruled that if you submit scientific evidence during a trial, the technician or doctor who performed the testing must be made available as a witness to be cross-examined on methods.

Here's some proof as to why that was a good ruling:

NEW YORK -- North Carolina's criminal justice system remains beset by scandal almost a year after an independent audit revealed that state crime lab technicians provided false or misleading test results in 190 cases of murder and other major crimes.

Two men convicted of murder have been freed so far as a result of the misconduct revelations, and dozens of other cases are still under review by prosecutors and defense attorneys.

Increasingly, more and more attention is being made to incorrect convictions. The Better Government Association just put out a report on the high cost of wrongful convictions.

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

PRIMARY DOC: Blagojevich Tape

The infamous "f***ing golden" tape is available for a listen.

Listen closely to the way Blagojevich says the word "repugnant." Over and over again, the issue is not getting money; it's not about getting influence; it's about sticking it to those "fucking national people" who think he's so "repugnant."

Tuesday, June 28, 2011


In "Reductive to the point of Insanity" news, "Imagine if Go the Fuck to Sleep were about Jews!"

Does CNN have editors, or is it just that swiggly red line in charge of everything?

Sunday, June 26, 2011

POLICY: What Back-Room Dealing Looks Like

The New York Times has the definitive article on how we got to have gay marriage, and the main thing it highlights for me is how innocuous back-room dealing looks like when it's for a good cause:

The story of how same-sex marriage became legal in New York is about shifting public sentiment and individual lawmakers moved by emotional appeals from gay couples who wish to be wed.

But, behind the scenes, it was really about a Republican Party reckoning with a profoundly changing power dynamic, where Wall Street donors and gay-rights advocates demonstrated more might and muscle than a Roman Catholic hierarchy and an ineffective opposition.

And it was about a Democratic governor, himself a Catholic, who used the force of his personality and relentlessly strategic mind to persuade conflicted lawmakers to take a historic leap.

“I can help you,” Mr. Cuomo assured them in dozens of telephone calls and meetings, at times pledging to deploy his record-high popularity across the state to protect them in their districts. “I am more of an asset than the vote will be a liability.”

Bottom line: Cuomo used his political skill in the back-room to convince key donors to take action, and using the leverage of money convinced legislators to vote against their constituents (at least, what they felt their constituents wanted). Obviously it couldn't have happened without strong public support and weak opposition, but Cuomo's strategy is the strategy of a Republic, not that of a Democracy.

Which is fine. Nothing unethical happened and there was a good result. Cuomo staked some personal reputation, and he seems to have won.

PRAGMATIC: Bold Choices!

I don't talk a lot about performance on this blog, despite the fact that I entered this field as a performer (and occasionally find my way to performing still).

However, I finally caught up with this excellent Cagney montage:

Cut up in this way, it's easy to see what was so successful about him. It wasn't just the fact that he was a tough guy -- although he definitely was -- it was that even his most serious scenes had a bit of the wildness and the exaggerated body language of the clown. His fist-fights and his slappings look like clown fights when taken out of contexts; the moments when Cagney really dances or is just crazy are really rewarding.

That's my frustration and disinterest both with many current action stars. Just because you're a big hulking male doesn't mean you have to be boring as pudding.

Saturday, June 25, 2011

QUOTE OF THE DAY: Chinese Numbers

In this post about troubles in the Chinese economy, including corruption and lack of transparency, there's a great gem:
As Li Keqiang, the vice premier and heir-apparent to Wen Jiabao, laconically remarked to the US ambassador a few years ago, most of the statistics in China are “for reference only.”
That's a statement worthy of the great Ron Ziegler, famous plenty of chestnuts, my favorite of which is his response to the question "Is President Nixon planning an invasion of Laos?":
"The president is aware of what is going on in Southeast Asia. That is not to say that there is anything going on in Southeast Asia."

Or maybe Senator Kyl's spokesman's more recent bon mot:

Senator Jon Kyl ... made the false claim during the congressional debate on 2011 budget that “well over 90%” of Planned Parenthood’s activity is devoted to performing abortion. Within hours, it was revealed that the congressman’s statement was baseless and when inquired by the news media, Kyl’s spokespeople clarified that his claim was “not intended to be a factual statement.”

Oh what a tangled web we weave...

REVIEW: The Future is in Eggs / Sicilian Limes

Joseph Hendel, Lauren Rayner Productions, and ADEV Inc.
a night of deadly serious comedies

"Do you have an iPhone? Do you have headphones?" Not the questions you'll usually be faced with at the box office of a normal evening of theater. Already, you've got my attention.

Running through Sunday night, Joseph Hendel returns (previous here) with two classic comedies plays in a single evening, Ionesco's The Future Is In Eggs and Pirandello's Sicilian Limes. And yes, he'll want to know whether you brought your technological distractions with you to the theater.


Before the audience gets to find out why Mr. Hendel and producer Lauren Rayner are interested in their digital accoutrements, Ionesco's The Future Is In Eggs is presented.

The Future Is In Eggs, Or: It Takes All Sorts To Make A World is an absurdist piece about a recently married adorable couple Jacques (Brendan Sokler) and Roberta (Skylar Saltz), who have not yet borne fruit for their families, if you follow. The families conspire to get something out of them, cajoling and guilting them and finally teaching them how to do it -- so that they can bear the eggs that they need to perpetuate the race.

Yes, eggs. You read that right.

The Future Is In Eggs draws from the rich history of Italian clowning, and marries it to an absurdist symbolic satire; in this case, the breeding habits of chickens becomes the sexual politics of Fascist Italy. (The date on the play is 1951, half a decade after the fall of Mussolini, when fascists, democrats, and communists were already in full-swing of a struggle that would eventually culminate in The Years of Lead).

For this kind of absurdity, you need to be very specific about how the actors are directed, and here the staging is a little wobbly. At times, the focus is diffuse -- too much is happening onstage and the actors are not all treating the madness in the same way. Particularly in one group moment toward the end, it turns into something like the Arrested Development chicken dance writ large).

Sometimes the cast treats what's going on as an assumed part of every day life, but my favorite parts were when members of the cast dove into the proceedings with the sort of insane glee that one can imagine from a raving ideologue. On that count, the stand-out in the cast is Skylar Saltz as the young Roberta, whose insane glee while being slammed into an imaginary glass wall above the set will probably be my lasting memory of the production.

The production has every bit of the understanding and rabid enthusiasm that ideology needs, but it could use with the strict choreography and machine-like efficiency of the fascism to help the moments land.


Luigi Pirandello's Sicilian Limes is a sweeter, more personal tale, about a young man Micuccio (Bradley J. Sumner) who takes a long journey to rekindle a love with a singer whose career he started, only to discover her changed by fame and fortune, unrecognizable as the woman he spent years pining over.

Before we got to see this story, however, we had to get ready for the experiment.

Remember that part when the box office asked if we had iPhones or headphones? Well, it turns out that the play was being performed as a pantomime with personal sound-tracks. Every person either used MyStreamApp on the iPhone or mp3 players provided by the company to tune into one of two possible soundtracks: either a realistic audio-book of the dialogue, or an experimental music track scored over the music. iPhone users could select which one they preferred; mp3 listeners were given one at random.

I got the realistic audio-book, so my experience of the evening is one that only about half of the audience had. Unable to revisit the show, I can only guess at what it was like for the experimental music listeners.

Before we even got into the production, however, there was the matter of all of us pressing "play" at the same time so we'd be in sync with the performers (who were also listening to the streams, to keep themselves synced with the audience). It took five or so tries, but eventually, we all got close enough.

I still wonder if there was a better way to provide a track so that more of the control was in the hands of the stage manager -- I think it was only those with mp3 players who were having trouble getting started, and the more room for error was removed, the better. As with the first play, the style of clowning being invoked requires specificity, and anything that can be done to take the variance out of it only sharpens it and increases the punch.

There was one strong moment that showed me why this experiment was taking place, however. At the crux of the play, Micuccio sees his long lost love for a moment and realizes the last three years of his life have been a lie. The audiobook provides the playwright's response: words of sorrow and despair. Freed from having to deliver the lines, Micuccio gets to play out the inner life of the moment, the actual physical pain and confusion of the despair.

Separating out how we communicate despair from how we experience it internally strengthened that moment and enriched it. Other moments too benefited from this relationship, although at other times I was a little jealous of the experimental music people, imagining them to be having a deeper and more profound experience than me.

Oh, and spare a moment for the prop design: I have to admit that the moment when Micuccio reveals his piccolo -- an important symbol for the child-like simplicity of the world he comes from -- I absolutely loved what co-properties designers Drew Vanderburg and Elinor Monroe did with it. I won't say exactly what, but oddly enough that piccolo was worth a thousand works.


All in all, the evening was more ambitious than All in the Timing, although drawn from the same bountiful well of clowning. Where there is already a great sense of fun, and an understanding of what makes these plays tick, more sharpening can turn these performances from good experiments into outstanding productions. At the very least, I'm looking forward to new experiments and new ideas.

(Disclaimer: The FCC requires that I disclose any free item I was given in return for this review. I received the following items:
  • One (1) free ticket to the performance. Estimated value: $20.
  • One (1) program, consisting of two pages (one full color, one black and white) and a small colored paper insert. Estimated value: $0.04.
  • One (1) round blue sticker. Estimated value: $0.01 or less.
  • One (1) CD containing press release, digital images, scripts, etc. Estimated value: $0.05 physical materials, $40 worth of intellectual property.
In exchange for these $60.10, I implied that I would write the above article. I made no guarantees as to its content or format, although it was implied that this would be similar to the my previous review of Joe Hendel's work.

Having made this disclosure, I trust I have complied with the letter of the FCC's regulation.)

Friday, June 24, 2011

Legal Commentary: Mark Cuban FTW

Loath as I am to link to TMZ, they have a story on what may be remembered as the most "badass" or "awesome" legal filing ever:
Long story short -- the minority owner, a company owned by Ross Perot Jr. -- filed legal papers in May 2010 calling Cuban a "careless and reckless" owner who was running the team into the ground.

Perot begged a judge to remove Cuban from operational control of the squad before it was too late.

Now, Cuban has responded in legal docs with the greatest statement ever ... a photo of the Mavs hoisting the NBA championship trophy.

Law in practice always seems to be some mixture of good legal doctrine and showmanship. And sometimes, on very rare occasions, you don't have to choose.

PRAGMATIC: Participation; The Grand Rapids LipDub

Ian Moss put out a call on behalf of WolfBrown (who must read Createquity... and therefore may have read my analysis of their Search for Shining Eyes report...), who are looking for examples of participation:
I’m writing to you ask if you might be willing to recommend any excellent, new or unusual examples of “active arts participation” programs offered by nonprofit arts groups (any discipline).

WolfBrown has been commissioned by The James Irvine Foundation to prepare a white paper on active participation, planned for release later this summer. In this case, “active” means that the participant is involved to some extent in creative expression (i.e., creating or performing). We’ve been asked to focus on participatory arts experiences for adults, not so much on arts education programs (e.g., lessons and classes) or audience engagement activities such as lectures and workshops.

Our research has uncovered many artists and arts groups who’ve been active in this area for years, but we’re looking for new and interesting examples, particularly involving arts groups for whom “active participation” has not been a priority, historically. We’re also interested in identifying artists who are creating new work that engages audience members in some form of active expression.

Any suggestions, leads or links would be most appreciated.
From their description, it sounds like they're not looking for this:

See, that work was done by a small company that doesn't appear to be a non-profit called Status Creative. And they don't have a history of non-participatory work. In fact, they don't have a history -- this is their first creation as an entity.

And yet, I don't know if I've ever seen a single thing an established non-profit looking to branch out into "participatory" realms (I'm actually having a hard time thinking of any examples).

But the video seems to invite everyone to participate, across a pretty surprising slice of population and demographics, using each person according to their talents and interests (e.g. football players playing football, firefighters parading, etc.), in a context that lets them express their voice (as a unified response to this article placing them on a list of "dying cities") in a way that gets heard (here's MainSt's response, and Newsweek's).

To me, that's basically a gold standard moment of participation... of course, it's not an ongoing project, but hey, art is ephemeral. And if WolfBrown isn't focused on that kind of participatory arts event, at the very least I'd love to see them compare how the non-profit organizations' work compares to this sort of grassroots participation.

Thursday, June 23, 2011

ARTS POLICY: Sarah Palin Weighs In!

And would you guess her position?

NPR, National Endowment for the Arts, National Endowment for the Humanities, all those kind of frivolous things that government shouldn't be in the business of funding with tax dollars - those should all be on the chopping block as we talk about the $14 trillion debt that we're going to hand to our kids and our grandkids. Yes, those are the type of things that for more than one reason need to be cut ... Reality is we have 15 million Americans who are out of work.

Ah, what fun.

RESPONSE: Honesty!

Oh man, CTG's Michael Ritchie doesn't mince words:

It came up from me, pounding my fists on the desk saying fuck subscribers. I’m so tired of subscribers. They drive me nuts; they’re strangling me; I hate them. I don’t care how good they are; I don’t care how much money they bring in. Fuck subscribers! And someone there at the table said well if we’re going to fuck them we should tell them we love them first, and we should figure out a way that we can fuck them but they stay anyway. How could we have it all?

I wonder what happens if you substitute the phrase "investors" in that sentence... oh yeah, it's a Goldman Sachs business model. Seriously though, the real weight of above is this claim:

And ultimately, I had board members say to me that Black Rider was a huge failure. My argument back was no it wasn’t! We lost subscribers for that show, but we didn’t lose them as subscribers. They remained subscribers the next year and they renewed.

Bonus big claim:

Theresa: You would never produce a brand new play [in the Taper], right?

Michael: I would have to be very surprised by a play that had so much value that I could put it into a sixteen hundred-seat house. It would have to come with something—who was writing it or who was performing it that put it at such a level that you knew it could live within that space. But we do new musicals in there obviously.

Bonus sound bite:

I had to change one of the seasons—all three theaters were running September to August—I had to take the Taper and put it on a calendar year, January to December because I couldn’t plan three theaters at once. My head was exploding.

PRAGMATIC: Understanding Failure

If you're going to say that your failure in creating a work has to do with massive forces beyond your control (like, say, Twitter), I think it's incumbent on you to explain how it affected you and no one else.

See, it turns out that Book of Mormon. War Horse, Mamma Mia!, How To Succeed in Business without Really Trying, and everything else in large-sized commercial or non-commercial theater in New York also had to deal with Twitter and instant feedback. And somehow they didn't become institutional masterpieces in the concept of failure.

Oh, and by the way, "apply[ing] an avant-garde aesthetic in a commercial arena" was ALSO not Julie Taymor's mistake. It was about as avant garde as Cirque du Soleil. Hey, it turns out Cirque du Soleil can sell pretty well!

Understanding why you fail is just as important as understanding why you succeed. And if you want to posit something outside your production (whether it be critics, audiences, or the Internet), you'd better come up with a reason why your explanation does not apply to everyone else subject to those outside forces.

(P.S. I do kind of like this vignette though:
Recently, in London, the Guardian ran a feature about a theatre blogger who was giving her opinion of the play she was watching at the intermission of a National Theatre production. In their dressing rooms, actors were reading an appraisal of their performances while they were in the middle of them. One actor actually came out front and introduced himself to the blogger.

POLICY: Pulitzer Prize-Winning Undocumented Immigrant III

The saddest part of the story is that the Washington Post, the journalist's own publication, declined the story:

Carlos Lozada, editor of the Post’s weekend Outlook section, confirmed to The Huffington Post that Vargas came to the paper with the story.

“I worked on it for some weeks with the intention of possibly running it in Outlook,” Lozada said. “Ultimately, the decision was to not move forward with it.”


Post management plays a small role in the story. Vargas writes how assistant managing editor Peter Perl, then the director of newsroom training, knew about his undocumented status and kept that fact hidden during the journalist's tenure. It's unclear whether a Post manager's role could have led to the paper not running the story (which undoubtedly would have found a home elsewhere and did).

Coratti said that "what Peter did was wrong," but declined to discuss individual personnel matters.

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

POLICY: Pulitzer Prize-Winning Undocumented Immigrant cont'd

The story behind the story:
Last week, at 11:54 p.m. on Monday night, June 13, an e-mail from Jose Antonio Vargas landed in my inbox. “Hi Chris,” Jose wrote. “Hope you are well. Any chance we can chat on the phone tomorrow? It’s rather urgent and personal — and a possible story for you.”

I had met Jose only once before, when I took him out for coffee and tried to persuade him to write for the magazine not long after his profile of Mark Zuckerberg was published in The New Yorker. I hadn’t heard from him since. So, to be honest, I didn’t think much of that first e-mail and didn’t expect anything to come of it when I dutifully called Jose the next day. (“Urgent and personal” stories have a way of not panning out.) That’s when things got mysterious.
Keep reading.

POLICY: Pulitzer Prize-Winning Undocumented Immigrant

I decided I had to tell one of the higher-ups about my situation. I turned to Peter.

By this time, Peter, who still works at The Post, had become part of management as the paper’s director of newsroom training and professional development. One afternoon in late October, we walked a couple of blocks to Lafayette Square, across from the White House. Over some 20 minutes, sitting on a bench, I told him everything: the Social Security card, the driver’s license, Pat and Rich, my family.

Peter was shocked. “I understand you 100 times better now,” he said. He told me that I had done the right thing by telling him, and that it was now our shared problem. He said he didn’t want to do anything about it just yet. I had just been hired, he said, and I needed to prove myself. “When you’ve done enough,” he said, “we’ll tell Don and Len together.” (Don Graham is the chairman of The Washington Post Company; Leonard Downie Jr. was then the paper’s executive editor.) A month later, I spent my first Thanksgiving in Washington with Peter and his family.

In the five years that followed, I did my best to “do enough.” I was promoted to staff writer, reported on video-game culture, wrote a series on Washington’s H.I.V./AIDS epidemic and covered the role of technology and social media in the 2008 presidential race. I visited the White House, where I interviewed senior aides and covered a state dinner — and gave the Secret Service the Social Security number I obtained with false documents.

Read the whole thing, my friends.

PERSONAL/ISRAEL: Some Background Notes on My Grandfather

Now to my grandfather: my grandfather's family came from the area outside Bialystock, although I think where they came from was far enough east to be part of modern-day Belarus. My grandfather is not clear on a lot of points -- for instance, if you ask him his age, he says "I think" because when he arrived, he gave a possibly fake birthday to be put on his passport.

He and his family arrived in the mid-1930s. At the time, Israel was just starting to become the controversial place we know of it today.

If you don't know, at the turn of the century, this influential jew named Theodor Herzl founded the first ideas of modern zionism, which was the idea that Israelis should have a homeland in what was biblically the kingdoms of Judea and Samaria. Soon, Israelis began moving into the Palestine that was, at the time, part of the Ottoman Empire. They weren't allowed to build settlements, but because of a quirk in Ottoman Law, any building you build with a tower and a wall can't be destroyed, so they would build tower-and-wall settlements in a single night. Ideological squatters.

During this period, strains of zionism mixed with strains of socialism, and many of the settlements (kibbutzim) were founded on commune principles: everyone worked, the income was pooled, everyone got a fixed allowance, there was no personal property.

After World War One, the land was ceded to the British as part of the post-war settlement that basically carved the Ottoman Empire to pieces. So by the 1920s, the Israeli settlers were influxing in to areas of land controlled by the British.

In 1933, everything changed. A huge exodus of Jews from Germany and other areas of Europe decided to head towards Israel, as a possibly safe land, and the British decided enough was enough, and closed their doors. Israelis were furious. Tensions mounted.

Three organizations arose at the time in response to this. The Irgun, the Lehi, and the Haganah were each paramilitary groups at the time. First was the Haganah: built on the principle of protecting the Jewish population and asserting independence. But Haganah also had a principle of restraint, and therefore the Irgun and the Lehi became terrorist organizations.

The bad blood between Haganah and the Irgun/Lehi reached its peak when during World War Two; the Haganah believed that the British needed to be supported in their war against Hitler, and the Irgun/Lehi both decided to continue their campaign against the British, and against the Arab population.

That was the Israel my grandfather immigrated into with his father, mother, and two brothers. It was already slowly becoming a battleground for terror and bloodshed as everyone tried create a new vision for the region.

The stories my grandfather told me are a bit incomplete. From what he has told me, he was a member of the Irgun from about 1944 to 1946. A chart of Irgun attacks shows that during that period, the violence was mostly aimed at British police officers and military bases, (he was on the run during 1946 and didn't participate in the King David bombing) but if you scroll up and scroll down, you'll see that the Irgun has a bloody history of bombing marketplaces hospitals, and major thoroughfares. And the end of that list is the Deir Yassin massacre.

The legacy of the Irgun and the Lehi is mixed today. On the one hand, once the state was established, it cracked down on both organizations, ending them decisively. The few Israelis I've heard talk about it were divided on whether it was a necessary or proper means for statehood. On the other hand, the leaders of both organizations became Prime Ministers: the Irgun's Menachin Begin (who reached peace with Sadat), and the Lehi's Yitzhak Shamir.

So far as I know, my grandfather did not participate in acts of terror deliberately aimed against civillians. But of course, it's one Irgun. You can't walk past that.

Next up in my grandfather's story: how you get started in an underground movement.


So, for the last two weeks I was in Israel, which is a not-unimportant place in the world from the perspective of global international politics. I was going to post while there, but poor internet connectivity made it much more effective for me to simply arrange very copious notes and plan what I would post going forward from my return.

Now that I'm back, each day I will post two posts based on my time in Israel. One will be personal observations of different aspects of Israel, and the other will be a serialized biography of my grandfather, who (as you will see) is actually an interesting person (and not just in the way that all people think their grandfathers are interesting).


I gave some context in a previous post that I would like to qualify. Isaac left a comment that I didn't have time to address, so I will address it here:

I know this isn't the point of this post, but your description of what's going on with the peace process is both simplistic and one-sided.

Probably any attempt to write a history of controversial recent events in anything short of a novel will be that, but I'll try to correct the points you've mentioned, and do it publicly so my readers can benefit.

Amongst other things, we (meaning the US and Israel) actively encouraged that civil war, just as we demanded the elections that brought Hamas to power.

Definitely no dispute here. The elections were an ideological point driven by President George W. Bush ("spreading democracy"). Israel, on the other hand, basically tried to interfere to stop Hamas from getting elected, but that didn't really do much except probably help Hamas.

For another, many Middle East experts (including plenty of zionists) actually think that the Fatah-Hamas unity government holds out the best hope for the demilitarization of Hamas and the transformation of them into a real political party (a la the IRA and Sinn Fein in the 90s). The way you've written this post-- again probably not your intent-- is that Fatah is now in league with terrorists and as a result Israelis are throwing up their hands and despairing.

There are many experts who think this is a positive development, but from the perspective of Israelis I spoke to, it does seem like yet another reason to despair (not the first or the last). I didn't write that to sentence saying that Israelis were right to throw their hands up and despair, I merely observed that since the collapse of the last childish round of peace talks (largely, as you note below, because of Likud foot-dragging), Israelis have completely checked out.

I didn't get to talk to a lot of Israelis on the subject, but those who I did speak to were fairly unanimously done with the concept of peace talks. They didn't have an alternative, or some other plan, or some proposal. They were just checked out.

This belies the active participation of the Likud government in derailing the peace process as well.

Yeah, in my context, I could have talked more about Netenyahu, who was on tape talking about how he manipulated the US and deliberately undermined the Oslo Accords, and his former chief of staff and now foreign minister Avigdor Lieberman, whose official position is this:

The peace process is based on three false basic assumptions; that Israeli-Palestinian conflict is the main cause of instability in the Middle East, that the conflict is territorial and not ideological, and that the establishment of a Palestinian state based on the 1967 borders will end the conflict.

Instead, he backed a plan of "Separation" in which all the arabs (including current Israeli citizens!) would be expelled from Israel. That's the foreign minister.

We happen to be in an unlucky moment for middle east peace in that we probably have one of the better situations int he Palestinian side for jumpstarting talks, a President who honestly seems to be wanted to actually be a fair(ish) broker and on the Israeli side, we have a guy who has made it abundantly clear he doesn't want peace.

All fair. Although it is worth pointing out that the "President who honestly seems to be wanted to actually be a fair(ish) broker" is somewhat irrelevant -- he is hampered by current American views on Israel, which seem fine with letting Netenyahu do what he wants (and even stand and applaud). For instance, whether or not Obama favors Palestinian independence, he's threatened to veto any unilateral independence (and possibly withdraw financial assistance, something the US would never dream of doing to Israel).

In other words, I think by not writing as much about Netenyahu as I wrote about the Palestinians, it made it seem as though I blame the Palestinians for the current impasse. I do not. More than anything, I blame the complete disengagement of the Israeli voter and the blind acceptance of the American Congress. Even Netenyahu would basically be powerless to stop peace if it wasn't for the fact that prevailing winds of his country are moving more to the right.


So, as I wrote some more things, I'm going to focus more on what Israel is actually like (since I have had little to no experience in Palestine or even in the Arab areas of Israel -- areas where Israelis rightly or wrongly fear to go). Anything I write should always come with the big disclaimer at the top "THIS IS ONE PERSON'S PERSONAL OBSERVATIONS IN A FOREIGN COUNTRY."

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

RESPONSE: A Well-Aimed Piece of Snark

Youngblog is a little jealous of cheese:

Silly playwright. What are you doing? You know you can't making a living writing plays. There's no money in theatre. You know where the money is? Grilled cheese.

That's right. Don't you read, playwright? According to the New York Times, The Melt--which will one day allow users to order grilled cheese sandwiches from their mobile phones--has raised 15 million dollars. It's not even up and running yet and they have 15 million dollars. No users, no sales. It's just an idea on a page. Sort of like your play. But this idea has 15 million dollars behind it.
You see, silly playwright, this is how the world works. I saw that reading of that new play of yours. I would invest, but it seemed...I don't it needs a bit more development before I take it seriously.

But this guy, Jonathan Kaplan, he came up to me and told me about how I could order a grilled cheese sandwich from my mobile phone with his app and I decided to give him 15 million dollars. Because that would be so sweet if I could order grilled cheese from my phone--so much cooler than using my phone to call a restaurant to order grilled cheese and so much cooler than going on a website via my phone to place an order. And I'm never at home when I want a grilled cheese, where'd I'd have to use a lame computer. No, I want an app for that. A grilled cheese app.

Yeah, there's a ridiculous bubble going on right now, and I think The Melt pretty much sums it up. Has there ever been a theater bubble?

RESPONSE: A Good Take Down

I'll be posting a little bit later today to explain my radio silence and get started on the next two weeks of this blog -- I think it'll be good -- but in the meantime...

What makes it a good shake-down is that it employs three quick tools for re-arranging the actual assertions in the piece so that you can look at them more clearly:
  1. He dresses down the verbiage so you can see the assertions more clearly.
  2. He runs the argument backward so that you can see the connections in a new light.
  3. He then puts himself in dialogue with the whole piece.
Next time I get tee'd off by an opinion post or an essay, I might give those tactics a shot.

Anyways, if you don't have time to read all of it (and you really should), I was particularly struck by this:
[W]hat are David Tennant and Patrick Stewart? That's right, they are actors. What's more, they're both actually rather good actors. David Tennant, especially, is great. I saw him in The Pillowman at the National years ago. Did you see that? He was great. So were Jim Broadbent and Adam Godley (who are also a bit famous).

Now, yes, since then he's been on telly in Dr Who; so more people know who he is; because Dr Who is quite popular. Which might also be down to the fact that David Tennant is a pretty good actor. So, yes he'sfamous, which, I suppose, sort-of makes him a “celebrity”. But he's hardly famous-for-being-famous. As soon as there's a Jedward-led revival of A Comedy of Errors, I'll be right there with you smelling a rat, but until that point, is this “celebrity-led” or is this “famous-excellent-actor-led”?

Was the first incarnation of the National Theatre “celebrity-led” because Lawrence Olivier was the first artistic director? Was it “celebrity casting” to have John Gielgud and Ralph Richardson in all those plays? Or were they famous because a lot of people all agreed that they very much liked watching them act? (Of course, your very use of the word “celebrity” mires the middle of this debate with so much unconscious class-contempt that I don't even want to start to get into it...)
It probably struck me because I spent this morning a little grumpy about the attention Ben Brantley lavished on Joely Richardson in this review before going on to say how uninteresting he found the actual play itself.

(UPDATE: I only just noticed that Stephen Unwin actually responded in the blog's comments. Including: "I'm a little startled by the violence of the hatchet job" and "Why don't we have lunch one day and not shout at each other online?"

It's a little sad that when someone goes into an extended criticism like the one of Mr. Unwin, people respond to it as a personal attack. Although the fisking is very thorough and doesn't make him look all that great, it's still very much focused to the matter at hand and largely well argued. Having seen some shouting matches and attacks on personality, I think describing the post as "shout[ing] at each other online" is uncharitable.

Oh, and why do we have these discussions online rather than in person? For the benefit of the viewing audience! I would be very unhappy if this back and forth -- including Mr. Unwin's questions in response, some of which are valid and some of which seem to miss the point.

The worst part of the internet is when people get into shouting matches and assaults of personality, and it gets extended onto a global scale. The best part of the internet is when people get into (sometimes heated) sharp discussions of ideas and it gets extended out on a global scale (at the very least, across the Atlantic!)

Alright, I'm done.)

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

ARTS NEWS: RIP Lillian Jackson Braun

Posting is a little arduous for me because I'm in Israel, so a post or two a day is my limit, and thus I'm going to focus on posting relevant to the things I'm seeing and reading, less responding to things I'm spotting in the blogosphere.

But I do have to briefly comment on the passing of Lillian Jackson Braun, author of The Cat Who... series of mystery books. I read them religiously in High School - the sort of book I would sneak in between reading Nietsche way too early and not understanding it at all.

Her writing came from a place about as antithetical to the sort of work that usually interests me as possible: I normally like reading things with Big Ideas, with high stakes; set in strange worlds with extravagant plots. Asimov, Tolkein, Douglas Adams, The Redwall series, books of philosophy, these were my usual playthings.

So what drew me in to these books, set in the world's seemingly most boring rural world, filled normal people and mysteries that seemed so pedantic in comparison with the sprawling masses of the universe?

Simply: the books created a home. The main character, Qwilleran, was the sort of person I could imagine growing up to be. Like me, he was just a kind of cynical but nice dude who wants to be a reporter. His moustache was the reason I grew my first moustache -- it symbolized a thoughtfulness and caring to me that I absorbed from the pages of her books.

Her books spoke to me on a level of simplicity: characters who were so real and so close at hand that it was beguiling, involving, and a great way to feel at home in a world so small you felt like you could touch every part of it.

Goodbye, and thank you for everything.

Monday, June 6, 2011

PRIMARY DOC: A Look At The President's Daily Brief

A few days ago, I posted briefly about the importance of Primary Documents, and that led me to decide to download a whole clutch of Primary Documents and start a reading series.

First up:

"Government Response to Court Orders of February 23 and February 27"

Date: March 2nd, 2006
Authors: Marilyn A. Dorn, CIA Information Officer; on behalf of the CIA

Context: This isn't too long ago, but let's take a trip in the wayback machine to 2006, and one of the bigger scandals of the Bush Administration: the Valerie Plame affair (not going to recap: you can peruse Wikipedia or The Daily Show at your leisure).

This story is one of the more insiderish scandals of the Bush Administration - it lacks the "punch" of Hurricane Katrina and it's not an easily pointed to moment the way the "Mission Accomplished " banner is, but it's important in understanding the run-up to the Iraq War. Bottom line: people who brought information to the Bush Administration that agreed with the party line, like the infamous CIA source codenamed "Curveball", were rewarded; those who disagreed, like Plame's husband, were destroyed.

The case that prompted this memo was the prosecution of Scooter Libby, presumably to figure out what classified information was given to Scooter Libby when, to prove that he did in fact leak classified information.

But you know what, as crucial as the Valerie Plame scandal was, that's not what's interesting in this brief 22 page statement. That's basically just a contextual backdrop that prompted this document: a really succinct summation of the President's Daily Brief (PDB). It provides a little background why, as a for instance, it's an interesting change in policy for Obama to declassify an interesting one.

The PDB is a document assembled by the CIA each day (interestingly, not the Director of National Intelligence... still baffled about how these different intelligence agencies work together...) and presented directly to the President by a CIA briefer.

What's interesting about the PDB is that it's the most sensitive document produced by the CIA (at least according to this document), and it doesn't use cryptograms to refer to individuals, or mask sources. The CIA's contention is that the PDB is so sensitive that if it was released, even in a redacted form, it would be easy to figure out how such information was gathered. There's good reason to treat such claims with skepticism, but if true, it puts an interesting cast on the CIA's relationship to the Commander-in-Chief.

The image that is presented to the public is that the CIA shelters the President from the workings of the CIA; the idea that the President is directly involved in CIA at least to the degree that he knows where information comes from and how it's gotten makes it even more implausible to me that President Bush did not, for instance, sign off on torture, or to know how shaky the Iraq evidence was. The idea that President Bush put forward that Tenet gave him a "slam dunk" case and he approved it is an idea that subtly underplay's the President's involvement and knowledge.

This is why primary documents are important: politicians and government officials sometimes use our ignorance of the system to their advantage, to dissociate themselves from responsibility, to use fuzzy governance as a slight of hand and protect themselves from needing to take action.

Saturday, June 4, 2011


A map of all the places that can be reached with 30 minutes of my home. Try it yourself.

HUMOR: Big Government

Attorney General Holder takes a point of personal privilege:
“I want to speak directly to Mr. Burns and Mr. Simon: Do another season of ‘The Wire’,” Holder said, drawing laughter and applause from the audience. “That’s actually at a minimum. … If you don’t do a season, do a movie. We’ve done HBO movies, this is a series that deserves a movie. I want another season or I want a movie. I have a lot of power Mr. Burns and Mr. Simon.”

LOCAL: Tobacco Warehouse Struggle Continues

Here's the update on the Tobacco Warehouse (previous coverage in four delicious parts):

St. Ann’s Warehouse, the Brooklyn theater whose versatile and cavernous playing space has become a magnet for New York and overseas acting troupes, is now confronting a likely fate that its leaders had worked years to avoid: homelessness.

Scheduled to lose its 14,000-square-foot home next May because of commercial development, St. Ann’s thought its long-term future was secure after the Brooklyn Bridge Park Corporation approved the theater’s plans to move across the street after renovating the old Tobacco Warehouse on the Dumbo neighborhood’s waterfront. But some Brooklyn civic groups oppose handing over that landmark ruin — a shell of a 19th-century building, mainly walls but no roof — to any single organization, and in April the groups won a court decision on a technical issue that probably will preserve the Tobacco Warehouse as an open neighborhood site for the next few years, at least.

Interestingly, the different Brooklyn-centric news sources I was following this in before completely failed to mention that St. Ann's was relying on this space as a future home... I very much hope there's some sort of a solution that salvages St. Ann's excellent work without invading an apparently active community site.

Friday, June 3, 2011

PERSONAL/GLOBAL NEWS: Off to Israel -- Some Context

Hey loyal readers -- Sunday night I embark on a two-week journey to Israel to see my family. I'm not planning on taking a break from this blog -- I'm going to try to blog from the ground in Israel.

So, just a little bit of context around my trip: as I'm sure you're aware, now is a particularly sensitive time in the Middle East.

First: the Palestinians finally ended their civil war by forming a unity government, thus ending the already weak peace process by putting the West Bank-leading Fatah party in the same government as the notorious-for-terrorism Hamas. Together, they're planning on declaring independence in September (something that is being described as "unilateral" although that term is disputed).

Meanwhile, on the Israeli side of the fence, Israelis are largely despairing of ever coming to peace. When Netenyahu was last in America, he surprised everyone by deciding that the 1967 borders -- a precondition for peace talks -- were "indefensible" despite the fact that not too long ago he was fine with that being the starting point. His outrage seemed to play well, getting him standing ovations in America and pushing the nation to the right.

Netenyahu's nominal opponent, former Prime Minister Tzipi Livni, has basically been silent; she can't articulate how she would do anything different from Netenyahu. Which is unsurprising: she was, after all, part of Netenyahu's party not too long ago, as was Avigdor Lieberman, the quasi-fascist Yisrael Beiteinu party leader who used to be Netenyahu's Chief of Staff.

The only major dissent -- but it is MAJOR -- just hit the airwaves this week -- is a former Mossad leader Meir Dagan who took to the media to call the current government "Reckless and irresponsible" and blast Netenyahu's claim that 1967 borders are "indefensible."

There's plenty of instability in the region on both sides, then; violence during Nakba day protests, violence continuing in Syria, and the blockade of Gaza is ending -- not without problems.

So, that's where you'll find me!

RESPONSE: Race And Races (in Fantasy)

Ars Marginal has a look at racism embedded in the elven race.

It continues to remind me: whenever you have a book, comic, TV show, etc. that is based on races having race culture, you're basically going to be creating a rorshach for people to project their own racial views onto. Because the fantasy/sci-fi culture of people being near-wholly defined by their race is, basically, a hold-over from pre-1950s racism.

It's very, very difficult to avoid -- whether it's Star Trek (Klingons are angry! Ferengi are greedy! Klingons are dark-skinned! Ferengi are basically Jews!) or Lord of the Rings or whatever, most of these fantasy or science-fiction sources seem to proceed from the idea that creatures of the same race are basically the same (with the occasional exception). It's the racial version of one-climate planets (Endor the Forest Moon! Hoth the Ice World!).

And back to the elves: sure, elves are basically racial supremacists. Except so are dwarves in most popular conceptions. And so are goblins and orcs. They all hearken back to the medieval idea that your race was good and everyone else were monsters who raped your children. Supremacists all.

RESPONSE: Because It Sold? (cont'd)

I still haven't read that train-wreck of a Mamet book, but here's a nice quote someone pulled from it:

For, at least, one could say of Hitler and his assassins, that they enjoyed their anti-Semitism. But the Left proceeds, from day to day, in a sort of sad, wistful fury at all the things of life not recognized in its cosmogony.

Projection much?

LOCAL: Free Andrew Bird Concert

Just thought you should know.

LOCAL: No! Not my Zip Code!

They're taking away my zipcode:

Williamsburg’s waterfront will be cut out of the fashionably skinny 11211 ZIP code and saddled with the uglier 11249 postal code next month thanks to a booming residential and business population.

Damn it, this is my favorite zip-code I've ever had. Don't take it from me!

RESPONSE: Deadpan News-Readers

Sometimes there's too much opinion on the air. Sometimes reporters are overly deadpan.

Here's a reporter doing exactly the right balance between the two:

That would have been the perfect solution to this situation:

NEWS: More Releases!

I love me when a good primary source becomes available -- all the history books in the world don't compare with reading the actual CIA manual advocating torture.

In that vein, President Obama has declassified the President's Daily Brief regarding Soviet Space Flight in 1968. This is in line with his executive orders that no information may remain secret forever -- an idea that sounds dead-simple but is actually a huge break from previous precedent in the intelligence business.

RESPONSE: Art and Science

I love the title on this New York Times article on the World Science Festival: A Double Helix of Art and Science:

The panel is one of 50 events at the five-day World Science Festival, the annual smooch-fest between science and art. The festival began on Wednesday night at Lincoln Center’s Alice Tully Hall with a gala reading of Alan Alda’s play “Radiance: The Passion of Marie Curie,” about that Nobel Prize winner, who, as a widow, was pilloried for having an affair with an unhappily married man who had been her husband’s student.

There aren't nearly enough connections between the arts and scientists. The stereotype of left-brain / right-brain divisions between the two is not great. I'm not talking about plays about sciences (although that's not a bad idea either, is it, Michael Frayn?), I'm talking about actually using arts and sciences together. I recently spotlit one artist bridging art and technology; I think there's more that could be done taking arts to sciences, or sciences to art.

I take a lot of artistic inspiration and ideas from WNYC's Radiolab. I can't help but get artistically inspired by Neil Degrasse Tyson. The creativity and interest in how science and human life actually interacts that some of these scientific ambassadors bring is something we should reflect and bring to them.

(P.S. This post took longer to write than I expected because I googled something related to it and found a whole bunch of cool-sounding science podcasts. Science here I come!)

RESPONSE: El Sistema, Theater of the Oppressed, and Big Ideas of Arts Education

Jennifer Kessler at Createquity (see Ian I read the byline this time!) has a great history of the El Sistema orchestral movement from Venezuela:
El Sistema is a system of youth orchestras in Venezuela designed to save the lives of under-served children through intensive and fun participation in music. Founded in 1975 by a visionary man named Jose Antonio Abreu (the former Venezuelan Advisor of the National Economic Council and the Minister of State for Culture), El Sistema has become a paradigm for social action through quality music-making.
It's a great look at a bold cultural initiative from a different part of the world. It reminds me a lot of its theatrical equivalent, Augusto Boal's Theater of the Oppressed that grew in Peru in 1971 (excellent book here) that became incorporated into a radical "arts literacy" education program.

Boal's writings on education were very formative in terms of my own views on arts education: he believed in starting from empowering students to use the forms of art at their disposal to communicate their thoughts and emotions, before needing to teach them specific forms.

Post-revolutionary Latin America is a world that I confess to not know much about, but it seems like it was an amazing time to be an out-of-the-box thinker. You know, before things turned sour.

LOCAL: DUMBO with Free WiFi

Dumbo is one of my favorite parts of the city. And it just got a little bit more favorite:

In the Dumbo neighborhood, the improvement district teamed with Two Trees Management Company, which owns about a dozen buildings in the neighborhood. Two Trees spent about $65,000 to have antennas and other equipment installed by the nonprofit organization NYCwireless, which has placed hot spots in several places around the city.

I think things like wifi networks are the technological equivalent of investments in parks and plazas.

Thursday, June 2, 2011

NEWS: Student Loan Reform!

An intriguing bit of news:

A 2010 GAO studied showed that federal aid to students at for-profit colleges had tripled over a five-year period from $8 billion to $24 billion and now accounts for 23% of the total aid given out, even though enrollment at for-profit schools only accounts for 8% of college students. Meanwhile, studies continue to show that an inordinately small number of students at these schools ever graduates. In an effort to cut back on the number of people left with mammoth amounts of student loan debt they can't pay back, the U.S. Dept. of Education has issued a new edict: Show us your college actually prepares students for gainful employment or risk losing out on that lovely loan money.

The official statement:

To qualify for Federal aid, the law requires that most for-profit programs and certificate programs at nonprofit and public institutions prepare students for gainful employment in a recognized occupation. Under the regulations introduced today, a program would be considered to lead to gainful employment if it meets at least one of the following three metrics: at least 35 percent of former students are repaying their loans (defined as reducing the loan balance by at least $1); the estimated annual loan payment of a typical graduate does not exceed 30 percent of his or her discretionary income; or the estimated annual loan payment of a typical graduate does not exceed 12 percent of his or her total earnings. While the regulations apply to occupational training programs at all types of institutions, for-profit programs are most likely to leave their students with unaffordable debts and poor employment prospects.

Joke response: I guess that means there's no financial aid for arts students anymore.

Serious response: this sounds great great. This may be the first time that we actually examine college spending as compared with future income in a systemic way.

How We Make The Case: Additions

A while back, I rounded up tactics for making the case for the arts in the face of cuts and criticism. A couple blogs have put forward other strategies, which I would add under the heading:


Cutting the arts doesn't mean much from the perspective of the budget, because we're such a tiny slice of the arts. In fact, as Ian Moss just put it, we're trace ingredients in the sausage factory of spending. Although people apparently don't think so, we're tiny -- it becomes apparent when you look at, say, the taxpayer's receipt. (I did explore this previously).

For instance, cutting arts funding in Kansas cost the state $1.2 million.

UPDATE: Whoops! I forgot that Createquity is now a team effort -- it was actually Aaron Andersen who coined the bon mot I quoted above. I guess now would be a good time to mention that the new writers at Createquity are doing a really great job?

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

PLUG: Mason Jar Music

I only just came across these people, but they seem pretty damn awesome:

Seems like they provide a pretty unique opportunity to musicians -- connecting them with ensembles helps promote music of breadth and resonance, rather than music of narrow sound.

PLUG: Blanck Verse

A scene:

Hey Guy!

Uh, yeah?

Your blog is great and all, but I'm looking for a blog that's more of a personal look at life in New York. You know, sort of a human, vignette-style look at life in the big city.

How about a blog written by a sparkling young lady living in New York, recording the human interactions between individuals that separate them from the faceless mass of strangers that we normally come across?

Hey, that's exactly what I'm looking for!

I think I can recommend you to my friend Kim Blanck, who's a great theatermaker but also keeps a great blog named Blanck Verse that captures a lot of those great moments in lucidly written prose.

Thanks! It's like you read my mind!

You're welcome.

NEWS: And Lack of Context...

The NYTimes is reporting that the Pentagon is now going to consider cyber attacks formal acts of war:

Several administration officials, in comments over the past two years, have suggested publicly that any American president could consider a variety of responses — economic sanctions, retaliatory cyberattacks or a military strike — if critical American computer systems were ever attacked.

The new military strategy, which emerged from several years of debate modeled on the 1950s effort in Washington to come up with a plan for deterring nuclear attacks, makes explicit that a cyberattack could be considered equivalent to a more traditional act of war. The Pentagon is declaring that any computer attack that threatens widespread civilian casualties — for example, by cutting off power supplies or bringing down hospitals and emergency-responder networks — could be treated as an act of aggression.

The article completely fails to mention that this is not idle future-think. After all, the United States won't deny that they've used it:

In an interview for a TV documentary about cyber security, Deputy Defense Secretary William Lynn twice failed to address reports that the US was a partner in the internet-borne attack.

The presenter of CodeWars: America’s Cyber Threat, asked him “was the US involved in any way in the development of Stuxnet?”
His initial response was to discuss the general problem of tracing cyber attacks.

“The challenges of Stuxnet, as I said, what it shows you is the difficulty of any, any attribution and it’s something that we’re still looking at, it’s hard to get into any kind of comment on that until we’ve finished our examination,” he said.

“But sir, I’m not asking you if you think another country was involved,” the presenter replied, “I’m asking you if the US was involved: if the Department of Defense was involved.”

Mr Lynn then flatly refused to answer.

If it's true (which it may not be -- the DoD might just want Iran to think that it is), then we've (by our own logic) committed an act of war against Iran.

Or how about this recent news story:

On Saturday, Lockheed Martin released a statement confirming the attack, which it described as "significant and tenacious." But it said its information security team "detected the attack almost immediately and took aggressive actions to protect all systems and data."

As a result, the company said, "our systems remain secure; no customer, program, or employee personal data has been compromised."

Hackers reportedly exploited Lockheed's VPN access system, which allows employees to log in remotely by using their RSA SecurID hardware tokens. Attackers apparently possessed the seeds--factory-encoded random keys--used by at least some of Lockheed's SecurID hardware fobs, as well as serial numbers and the underlying algorithm used to secure the devices.

In other words, cyber attacks are now an act of war, and we've both committed and received those attacks in the last year. While we're already fighting three wars, we've had acts of war exchanged with at least one other country.

All context that is missing from the NY Times article.

(UPDATE: Just after posting this I read this article about the arsenal the Pentagon is putting together to fight cyber warfare).