Monday, March 19, 2012

How We Make The Case: Update (We Stopped Dreaming)

Last Thursday, I had the great pleasure of attending a talk by the head of the Hayden Planetarium, Neil DeGrasse Tyson. Although he is previously known for being a great communicator of science (and also for being the public face of Pluto not being a planet anymore), his recent shift has been to focus on the case for Mars:

The talk was around an interesting topic: why we stopped going to the Moon.

The starting point for the talk was an article Dr. Tyson wrote about what makes people write checks for discovery. Not why discoverers have walked into the unknown, but why they were given staggering amounts of money to do that. 

The big projects -- projects which weren't just expensive, but eating-up-your-GDP expensive -- were:

  • The Apollo Project
  • The Manhattan Project
  • The Great Pyramids
  • Columbus' expedition
  • Magellan's expedition
  • The cathedrals of Europe
The three reasons he mentions as to why the people who write the checks do what they do is:
  • The fear of dying: the Apollo Project and the Manhattan Project came out of fears of external forces that could destroy them; Nazism and Communism.
  • The fear of dying poor: Columbus and Magellan were commissioned to explore the world out of the belief that they could create massive competitive advantages.
  • Glory to a higher power: The Great Pyramids, and the Cathedrals of Europe.
The third one, Glory to a Higher Power, he dismissed out-of-hand -- the only reason they worked in the past, he contends, is that the money was held by autocrats whose own emotional fears and motivation. Today, the projects are in the first two categories.

To all the people who contended that there were other ways to make the case, he had one word to describe them: delusional.

(he used that phrase to describe Buzz Aldrin repeatedly... that may be my favorite beef ever).

And if that's science and discovery, how could the arts be any more compelling?

Previously, I put together an eight part series on how we make the case for the arts, and looking back, it seems like half of the answers would make the cut (e.g. Isaac's "Arts Money Is Real Money") but no argument we've ever put forward even comes close to the scale of impetus of those major programs.

Saturday, March 17, 2012


To the blogosphere: there's an incredible list of Nazi rules for jazz performance re-published on Atlantic Monthly's blog:

  1. Pieces in foxtrot rhythm (so-called swing) are not to exceed 20% of the repertoires of light orchestras and dance bands;
  2. in this so-called jazz type repertoire, preference is to be given to compositions in a major key and to lyrics expressing joy in life rather than Jewishly gloomy lyrics;
  3. As to tempo, preference is also to be given to brisk compositions over slow ones so-called blues); however, the pace must not exceed a certain degree of allegro, commensurate with the Aryan sense of discipline and moderation. On no account will Negroid excesses in tempo (so-called hot jazz) or in solo performances (so-called breaks) be tolerated;
  4. so-called jazz compositions may contain at most 10% syncopation; the remainder must consist of a natural legato movement devoid of the hysterical rhythmic reverses characteristic of the barbarian races and conductive to dark instincts alien to the German people (so-called riffs);
  5. strictly prohibited is the use of instruments alien to the German spirit (so-called cowbells, flexatone, brushes, etc.) as well as all mutes which turn the noble sound of wind and brass instruments into a Jewish-Freemasonic yowl (so-called wa-wa, hat, etc.);
  6. also prohibited are so-called drum breaks longer than half a bar in four-quarter beat (except in stylized military marches);
  7. the double bass must be played solely with the bow in so-called jazz compositions;
  8. plucking of the strings is prohibited, since it is damaging to the instrument and detrimental to Aryan musicality; if a so-called pizzicato effect is absolutely desirable for the character of the composition, strict care must be taken lest the string be allowed to patter on the sordine, which is henceforth forbidden;
  9. musicians are likewise forbidden to make vocal improvisations (so-called scat);
  10. all light orchestras and dance bands are advised to restrict the use of saxophones of all keys and to substitute for them the violin-cello, the viola or possibly a suitable folk instrument.
My question is -- if you follow these rules, what the hell is there that still sounds like Jazz?

I know there's some music folks out there who follow this blog, so, if you're listening, anyone know if there's any good example of Nazi-era rule-abiding jazz I can listen to?

UPDATE: Ask ye internet, and ye shall receive. Thanks to Ian W. Hill for linking me up to the Nazi Jazz.

PRODUCING: The Free Download of Theater

Isaac thinks about the "free download" approach to getting people hooked in your creative offering:
The question it seems to me is not what is theatre's equivalent of the free download? The question is what do we do given there can't be a theatrical equivalent of the free download?
I don't know if we don't have an equivalent of the free download. Musicians are willing to give away free tracks because they know that an enthusiastic audience places extra value on seeing the work live, for themselves. If that's the case, then creating some digital equivalent of our work and releasing it for free online would be an equivalent.

I'm not wild about most theater trailers because they tend to be structured as advertisements, rather than mini-performances. Pull quotes, snappy Hollywood-style snippets, etc..

Here's an example of how my company puts out its "free download":

As a preview of an upcoming performance, it allows our audience to consume it, but my company will hope to communicate to our audience that the added value of coming to the performance is the live aspect, the interactivity (and also food. there will be food.).

My Mind Lately

Have I been on a gentle hiatus? Perhaps. I was quite industrious while I was working.

Anyways, some bits and bobs that caught my eye while I was out:

Forming a community, whoever we are:
Except when you can't:
Tools for success:
Tools to de-stress:
  • The excellent comic Wondermark had an engaging five-part comic about trying to make a wish when you know you're only going to get 1/5th of your wish. Starts here.
  • I'm continuing on an MC Frontalot bender:

Rules of Engagement IX: Israel Update

Previous installments: IIIIIIIVVVIan updateVII, and VIII

A frequent series I've been running here has been a look at the rules of engagement; how a culture's rules on who can use force and how reflect their values, and are core to civic structure.

A quick update from the Holy Land:
Clashes between the Israeli army and locals in the West Bank aren't a new story. The apparent twist in these incidents... is that the rioters were Israelis—young, extreme rightists commonly known as "hilltop youth." The reason for their wrath, according to the flood of Israeli news reports of the eventful night, was rumors that the police and army were about to carry out Israeli Supreme Court orders to evacuate a small settlement outpost, Ramat Gilad, built in violation of the laws in force in the West Bank. 
From Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu down, Israeli officials responded as if the confrontations represented an unprecedented internal assault on the state, the rule of law, and Israel's internal cohesion. After an emergency meeting with cabinet ministers and top army and police commanders, Netanyahu declared, "We have a democracy in this country. … No one is allowed to break the law. No one is allowed to attack Israel Defense Forces soldiers." The head of the army's Central Command, responsible for the West Bank, said that "in 30 years in the service, I've never seen hatred like this from Jews toward our soldiers." In a press statement, Defense Minister Ehud Barak declared that "homegrown terror … will not be tolerated." 
In short, Netanyahu, Barak, and colleagues were shocked, shocked to find that settlers were breaking the law and that the extreme right can attack the state. 
It's unsurprising that violence has become the default for all inter-communal exchanges in the area. Certainly nobody, from the highest levels of government on down, is trying to set an example that maybe force is not the first, last, and final tactic.

My grandfather, who was imprisoned several times by the British during the Mandate occupation of Israel, still remembers them kindly. Even as they were executing his compatriots, his comment to me was that they were never abusive, and always acted as gentlemen. It didn't lead to a victory over Jewish terrorism, nor did it lead the more brutal parts of the resistance movement to moderate their violence.  

PRAGMATIC: Truth, Lies, and Monologue Tapes

(I steered clear of the obvious The Agony And The Ecstacy of Mike Daisey...)

A highly popular episode of This American Life in which monologuist Mike Daisey tells of the abuses at factories that make Apple products in China contained "significant fabrications," [This American Life] said today. 
"We're horrified to have let something like this onto public radio," Ira Glass, the show's executive producer and host said in a blog post today. "Our program adheres to the same journalistic standards as the other national shows, and in this case, we did not live up to those standards."
Daisey's response:
I stand by my work. My show is a theatrical piece whose goal is to create a human connection between our gorgeous devices and the brutal circumstances from which they emerge. It uses a combination of fact, memoir, and dramatic license to tell its story, and I believe it does so with integrity. Certainly, the comprehensive investigations undertaken by The New York Times and a number of labor rights groups to document conditions in electronics manufacturing would seem to bear this out. 
What I do is not journalism. The tools of the theater are not the same as the tools of journalism. For this reason, I regret that I allowed THIS AMERICAN LIFE to air an excerpt from my monologue. THIS AMERICAN LIFE is essentially a journalistic ­- not a theatrical ­- enterprise, and as such it operates under a different set of rules and expectations. But this is my only regret. I am proud that my work seems to have sparked a growing storm of attention and concern over the often appalling conditions under which many of the high-tech products we love so much are assembled in China.
That is quite missing the point. There's a pretty good stole-the-words-from-my-mouth article about why what Mike Daisey did was misleading and wrong:
Mike has a two-line disclaimer in the Playbill for The Agony and Ecstasy of Steve Jobs in all caps: 
Changing names to protect the innocent is not the same as fabricating meetings with fictional FoxConn workers poisoned by the chemical n-hexane, used for cleaning iPhones. 
It's true that Mike Daisey is "not a journalist." However, the expectation of "telling the truth" isn't something we put on journalist -- it's an expectation that we put on each other as people and as citizens. There are contexts in which fiction -- even while integrated with truth -- is powerful, but mislabeling it creates the issues. Especially where "the truth" is what's up for debate -- after all, here's a quick quote from the denoument of Agony and the Ecstacy:
I would keep my head down. And I would tell my story.
And tonight—we know the truth.
Except that, apparently, we don't. Because the truth was mixed in with performance.

Now, the additional problem of not knowing what's true and what's not is that anyone who wants to bury the truth can simply dismiss the elements of the story that are true, and the truth behind the embellishment, because of how Mike Daisey handled the truth.

It wasn't a lie. It wasn't the truth. It was, well, this:
A person who lies is thereby responding to the truth, and he is to that extent respectful of it. When an honest man speaks, he says only what he believes to be true; and for the liar, it is correspondingly indispensable that he considers his statements to be false. For the bullshitter, however, all these bets are off: he is neither on the side of the true nor on the side of the false. His eye is not on the facts at all, as the eyes of the honest man and of the liar are, except insofar as they may be pertinent to his interest in getting away with what he says. He does not care whether the things he says describe reality correctly. He just picks them out, or makes them up, to suit his purpose.
That's from Harry Frankfurt's excellent slim volume, On Bullshit. (He had to write a second book, On Truth, to explain why bullshit is a bad thing -- worse than lying, in his opinion). Bullshit (statements which are made without regard to the truth) and the related idea of Truthiness (statements which are made because they feel true).

I would extend that definition to include a separate definition for Fiction: statements which both the speaker and the listener know are not true, but on some level coexist with true.

The role of truth that Daisey seems to be espousing with his statement that he's not a journalist, but rather an artist, is the idea that artists are not responsible to the truth. 

It reminds me of something that comes up around Jon Stewart, as seen here:
BILL MOYERS: You've said many times, "I don't want to be a journalist, I'm not a journalist." 
JON STEWART: And we're not. 
BILL MOYERS: But you're acting like one. You've assumed that role. The young people that work with me now, think they get better journalism from you than they do from the Sunday morning talk shows.

Sunday, March 4, 2012

Another Hero Passes

Star Wars concept artist Ralph McQuarrie has passed away at 82. If you'd have asked me yesterday who my heroes were, I probably wouldn't have listed him (or his Star Trek counterpart, Matt Jefferies), but growing up, when you asked me to close my mind and imagine what a universe of possibilities could be, I probably would be thinking of their expansive visions of empires and federations throughout space. 

As you grow, you wean yourself away from imitation and towards your original conceptions, but deep down those early influences are still at work. McQuarrie's work is probably buried in a place so primal in my childhood imagination that I couldn't guess at where it comes out now, but it's definitely there.

And I do mean Ralph McQuarrie -- I had one of the concept art books (and, again, the Star Trek counterpart). It was beautiful and valuable to me to see at a young age that not only was there this beautiful and compelling vision in the stars, but that there were just as many other visions that could have existed