Monday, December 31, 2012

2012 review

So I posted some goals for 2012 last year - did I meet them? Let's see:

  • A production of the full-length JULIA & BUDDY
FAIL - thanks to the employment rollercoaster of 2012 I was not able to do this. But on the positive side, by the end of 2012 I had a new full-time permanent job that I like much much better than the job I held from 2008 - 2012.
  • PALMYRA NJ - not only first draft but revised, finalized play
FAIL - and there's no excuse for this - I had time, in-between looking for a new job.
  • Full-length MISTRESS ILSA, Full-length SODOM & GOMORRAH: THE ONE MAN SHOW
FAIL and FAIL.  I did however make some headway on my play about Catherine the Great, which was one of my goals, although I'm nowhere near finished, and I started a play about Ben Franklin, which wasn't a goal but at least I wasn't just goofing off on Facebook all year.
  • More video projects
  WIN - I definitely met this goal. Thanks to being unemployed for part of 2012 I was able to not only interview Carl Forsman, the founder of Keen Company for the NYCPlaywrights' web site (and got a pair of comps in exchange), but I did some pretty ambitious stuff with the NYCPlaywrights Play of the Month videos: I added special effects to the March video; used archival footage (and did voice acting) for the October video; and made, basically three 10-minute movies in February (on the N train), May (in Union Square), and September (my apartment.) 
  • Increase NYCPlaywrights web traffic.
WIN - maybe because of the videos, but there were 99,870 visits to the site in 2011 and 165,454 in 2012. And income from Google ads increased 104%. And then there were the banner ads...
In spite of my theater-related fails I did get something done - I had a new production of MISTRESS ILSA with a revised script.

For 2013 my goals are:
  • World premiere of the full-length JULIA & BUDDY, finally
  • Get at least one of my many half-finished full-length plays up to production-worthy status. At this point it's either BEN FRANKLIN or MISTRESS ILSA. Or CATHERINE THE GREAT.
  • Invest in better video equipment to make better videos.
Three is enough for one year, I think.

Blogging indiscretion

I found out recently that my department at work hired the Freakonomics guys to do some statistical work for them. I don't think anybody knows I have a blog and if they did I doubt they'd read it, which is good because something I said about one of the Freakonomics guys on my blog four years ago was, shall we say, less than flattering.

Sunday, December 30, 2012

Romantic comedies and real life

As everybody knows, romantic comedies are not cool. They rarely have a dystopian world view, tend to be un-portentous, and the men in them actually like the women, as human beings, with distinctive personalities. Well, at least they used to. I would argue that one of the reasons that the work of Judd Apatow is the modern standard of romantic comedy is because it changed the focus of the romance from a male/female pairing to a dude/bro pairing with hot women on the side. Just so we all know what's really important.

In Salon, back in March, their film critic (I assume) Andrew O'Hehir complained about romantic comedies. His problem with the genre seems to be that in the end the man and the woman get together and are happy. Unlike in real life, for in the grand evolutionary psychology tradition he explains:
As my closest female friend likes to muse when contemplating the marketplace for books and movies and other forms of entertainment, nobody ever went broke trying to convince heterosexual women that men will fall in love with them and stay faithful forever, despite all the evidence to the contrary. Is pure biological imperative enough to explain the persistence of the most formulaic kind of romantic comedy, even in the age of widespread divorce and destigmatized single-parenting and same-sex marriage? I’d hate to think so, and in fact I don’t think so. But something must explain it. A desire for old-fashioned comfort in chaotic times? You tell me.
O'Hehir is just too big a hipster to get romantic comedies. Although please note that he makes sure to let you know that it's actually a woman - his "best female friend" - who really doesn't get them. This is the favorite "a woman said it so it's OK" tactic so beloved of people who hire Caitlin Flanagan and Katie Roiphe to write think pieces on some aspect of women's lives.

He then goes on to blame Norah Ephron, because she pioneered (he apparently believes) the concept of the couple getting together at the end. Fortunately the comments include plenty of snarky rebuttals. One of my favorite comments:
What Andrew O'Hehir seems to be saying is that he wishes more films would end with the male lover stuck as a passive observer deep inside the consciousness of the love child of the heroine's love child with her lesbian paramour, ala "Being John Malkovich."
Other commenters make the point that contemporary romantic comedies are just more crappy now than in the past, and in any case, mediocrity can be found in any genre.

I actually don't know much about Norah Ephron's movies - I don't think I've ever seen one, although I know about many of the plots from reading reviews and from various references. So I can't say if they are awful or not. I will say that I've never felt compelled to see "When Harry Met Sally" because Billy Crystal is not my idea of an attractive leading man.

Although romantic comedies are mostly crap in the movies, they do at least exist in the movies. They don't exist at all in New York theater. The web site Did He Like It has a handy list of Broadway and Off-Broadway shows currently running, and there are no rom-coms there. There are a few musical comedies that reference romance like MAMA MIA and COUGAR: THE MUSICAL, and a musical drama with the focus on romance, ONCE, but there are certainly no romantic comedy plays. Maybe the recent VENUS IN FUR counts but I'm not sure that's exactly a romantic comedy - more like a kinky comedy, although I suppose male submissives find it plenty romantic.

So basically the "romantic comedy" is all but extinct in New York theater, which is why I thought it was bizarre that during a recent online discussion some guy, who I guess thinks he's all cool and cynical, said something along the lines of if you really want to make money in the theater give the stupid audience a romance with a happy ending.

If romantic comedies are the way to big money, nobody has clued the theater producers in. Somehow only cynical hipsters hold the secret to big Broadway bucks.

I actually do think that an effective romantic comedy could do well, in part because they are so rarely seen in the theater these days and people actually do like it when the couple gets together at the end. Even some men like that! Although of course not the dudebros in the New York Off-Off Broadway theater scene. But then again, they don't write plays for audiences, they write plays to impress each other and Martin Denton with how portentous and sci-fi and boundary-smashing they are. And when they do venture outside their bubble, for some reason they don't have massive hits. Our work is just too smart, they tell each other. Those stupid audiences want romantic comedies where the man and the woman get together and have a happy ending! Ew, yuck, girl germs!

There is a great irony to Andrew O'Hehir grousing about how romantic comedies are unrealistic because they try "to convince heterosexual women that men will fall in love with them and stay faithful forever." I don't think any of the otherwise astute commenters pointed out the irony either: O'Hehir expresses his skepticism about the possibility of long-term heterosexual relationships in the context of a review of Jennifer Westfeldt's movie "Friends with Children".

Jennifer Westfeldt is married to Jon Hamm.

They've been together since 1997 and they recently got married. Now we don't know if Hamm will stay faithful to her forever, and we don't know if they have any kind of swinging arrangements, but we do know that this woman has had a long term relationship with Jon Hamm for a decade and a half, and I'd say that even a single year of monogamy with a guy like Jon Hamm would trump twenty years with a guy like Andrew O'Hehir.

If anybody has the authority to write a romantic comedy about a happy ending with a hot guy, it's Jennifer Westfeldt.

And that's what really bothers O'Hehir - women dream of having a long-term relationship with a hot man because every once in awhile it actually happens. How dare they have such dreams on his planet?

He really needs to switch to reviewing theater - the romantic comedies and hot men are few and far between there and he'd feel much more comfortable.

And in honor of him and the asshole hipster who thinks that his plays and those of his friends would be successful if it wasn't for all those damn romantic comedies with their happy endings crowding them out, I decided to make the first NYCPlaywrights Play of the Month theme of 2013 "two people in love."

Saturday, December 29, 2012

More on the NRA and the courts

Linda Greenhouse, whose NYTimes beat is the Supreme Court and the law, wrote an excellent piece about the outsized influence the NRA wields over the Republicans when it comes to judiciary nominations:

Back in 2009, when President Obama chose Judge Sonia Sotomayor as his first Supreme Court nominee, the White House expected that her compelling personal story, sterling credentials, and experience both as a prosecutor and, for 17 years, as a federal judge would win broad bipartisan support for her nomination. There was, in fact, no plausible reason for any senator to vote against her. 
The president’s hope was Senator Mitch McConnell’s fear. In order to shore up his caucus, the Senate Republican leader asked a favor of his friends at the National Rifle Association: oppose the Sotomayor nomination and, furthermore, “score” the confirmation vote. An interest group “scores” a vote when it adds the vote on a particular issue to the legislative scorecard it gives each member of Congress at the end of the session. In many states, an N.R.A. score of less than 100 for an incumbent facing re-election is big trouble. 
Note that the N.R.A. had never before scored a judicial confirmation vote. Note also that Sonia Sotomayor had no record on the N.R.A.’s issues. (True, she voted with an appeals court panel to uphold New York State’s ban on nunchucks, a martial-arts weapon consisting of two sticks held together with a chain or rope, commonly used by gang members and muggers. The appeals court didn’t even reach the interesting issue of whether the Second Amendment guaranteed the right to keep and bear nunchucks, ruling instead that the amendment didn’t apply to the states – which, before the Supreme Court later ruled otherwise by a vote of 5 to 4, it didn’t.) 
Never mind. The N.R.A. had all the reason it needed to oppose Sonia Sotomayor: maintenance of its symbiotic relationship with the Republican Party. Once it announced its opposition and its intention to score the vote, Republican support for the nominee melted away. Only seven Republicans voted for confirmation.

I wrote about the subject of the NRA and the Supreme Court recently - I had not been aware of the big change in focus from "well-regulated militia" to personal gun rights that happened four years ago - Greenhouse references it in her piece - because I hadn't been paying attention.

The NRA is like Sauron - it never sleeps, just keeps looking, looking for its Precious - which, in this case, is a final victory that would mean the right of any American to own any type of gun and to carry it at all times and everywhere. After purchasing the gun without background checks.

And like Sauron, it cannot be reasoned with - it is just plain evil and must be stopped.

Friday, December 28, 2012

Loser actors on dating sites

I always wonder about a guy on a dating site who claims to be an actor. There are way more straight women than straight men in the acting world - although men get more roles because more roles are written for men, which means that quite a few unattractive men can be actors. But unless his profile picture shows him to be hideous, you have to wonder why he can't find a woman through acting.

Usually it's because he thinks waaay too highly of himself.

I saw a guy today who says he's a part-time actor, makes between 40 - 50 K,  claims to be 47 but with his balding grey hair he looks like he's in his mid-50s at least, and yet he's looking for a woman between the ages of 23 - 39 - and he doesn't even have the excuse that he wants a woman to be a breeder for him - he says he has kids and doesn't want any more. But not only does she have to be no older than eight years younger than him, she can't be even slightly overweight, she has to be white, and in his opinion has an "obligation" to keep her legs shaved.

The best part is that in spite of identifying himself right from the top as an actor, here was his response to the question:  In the line Wherefore art thou Romeo? what does wherefore mean?

Why God bless Google and OKC. I just learned something kinda interesting.
He promotes himself as an actor and yet not only did he get to be age 47 (or so) without knowing that "wherefore" means "why" in this context, he's so stupid he actually admits it. I mean, he's already ruled out his Victoria's Secret model target demographic by being a middle-aged man who makes 40-50K (and in NYC!), but he's even demonstrated what a loser he is to a woman who might have an interest in the theater and low-income actors.

I was so tempted to write to him and ask how the search for a young-beautiful-thin-white-not-a-gold-digger was going, but the answer was found easily enough by doing a search on his user name:



And one more thing - what the hell is the deal with SCUBA?!? I had no idea that so many single men were interested in self-contained underwater breathing apparati until I went on dating sites. Does any woman, unless she is a SCUBA nut too, think this is a big plus? How many women are SCUBA nuts? And most of these men also include a photo of themselves in full SCUBA gear. I guess to prove that he isn't just bragging about the SCUBA - dammit he really does it! Don't contact him all at once ladies!

Thursday, December 27, 2012

Christmas travel

Big family party at my sister's place in far South Jersey for Christmas this year. I had a train stop in Philadelphia, and once again marveled at how tiny the city seems now. Philly used to be the big city across the river, when I lived in South Jersey. Now it's like a little doll city.

Case in point, the 30th Street Station, pictured below. It was built probably around the same time as the original New York Penn Station, and unlike Penn, was never razed and covered by Madison Square Garden. So it looks pretty cool and beaux-arts. But I was almost in the center of the waiting area from where I took the picture, so that gives you an idea of how small the whole thing is, compared to Penn Station. The entire waiting area is smaller than just the Amtrak section of Penn Station, and Penn also has bus and subway sections.


Here I am waiting to take a train. I was already aware that my face is very asymmetrical, but only recently have I become aware of how freakishly arched my eyebrows are. The left is more arched than the right, but they're both way more arched than say, the eyebrows of the beautiful model in the giant banner ad behind the Christmas tree in the photo above.  

*sigh*



Wednesday, December 26, 2012

More evidence that most people don't know shit from Shinola

I was truly aghast over the Random House Modern Library list of the 100 Best Novels.

The first thing that hit me - or anybody with any understanding of what makes a novel good - is that four of the top ten listed in the "Readers List" column are by Ayn Rand and three are by L. Ron Hubbard. The three slots not taken by cult leaders are "To Kill a Mockingbird" and "1984" which are probably there because they are popular school reading assignments and so most people have actually read them, and "Lord of the Rings" which is arguably another cult.

The "Board's List" is better if only because neither Rand nor Hubbard appear on it at all, but it leaves out Twain, Dickens, Jane Austen and the Brontes.

Leaving out the Brontes and Austen wasn't all that surprising: their work is now considered too "chick lit" to be respectable, since the goal posts of all art forms are being moved to hinder growing female participation - now art must be macho and manly for it to be respectable. Hemingway appears on the Board list, twice.

The truly shocking part is that "Wide Sargasso Sea" is on the list. That book is a prequel to "Jane Eyre" and it's not only glorified fan fiction, it's the most boring novel I've ever read. I finished it but only barely, clinging desperately to consciousness.

Who are these Modern Library board people???

Tuesday, December 25, 2012

Happy Saturnalia!

Famous dark-side Saturn photo -
click to view a very large version.

That is Saturn, as seen by the Cassini spacecraft on Oct. 17, 2012. It’s a mosaic of 60 images (taken in violet, red, and infrared light seen here in false color), methodically stitched together to produce this jaw-dropping view, and you absolutely positively must grab the bigger, higher-resolution version. It's stunning.
Saturnalia was an ancient Roman festival in honour of the deitySaturn held on December 17 of the Julian calendar and later expanded with festivities through December 23. The holiday was celebrated with a sacrifice at the Temple of Saturn in the Roman Forum and a public banquet, followed by private gift-giving, continual partying, and a carnival atmosphere that overturnedRoman social normsgambling was permitted, and masters provided table service for their slaves.[1] The poet Catullus called it "the best of days."[2]


Monday, December 24, 2012

The Sunday Philosophy Club

An actor friend, after attending the latest reading of JULIA & BUDDY on Friday (which is  hopefully the last reading before a production) recommended a book series to me, "The Sunday Philosophy Club." The first installment was published in 2004.

Since I was having one of my every-few-months bouts with dry-eye syndrome over the weekend I wanted to avoid spending my usual hours and hours staring at the computer so I downloaded the first two installments as audiobooks and spent the day with my burning eyes closed, listening to the novels.

I have mixed feelings about the novels and the heroine, Isabel Dalhousie. On the one hand I have plenty of affinity for her, being around my age - or was, when the first book was published; an interest in philosophy - she actually is a philosopher with a part-time job as the editor of Review of Applied Ethics. She's also attracted to a younger man, who, when the first book opens, is her niece's ex-boyfriend. A good chunk of the stories are devoted to her various philosophical musings which I enjoy, since many of her observations are pithy, well-reasoned and even sometimes funny. And at one point she slams evolutionary psychology and what's not to like about that?

But she doesn't have to work, living off the fortune she inherited from her mother, and at times she seems like a bit of a ninny, and prissy too. Although part of my assessment of her might be colored by the voice of the audio book reader for the series, which I find irritating.

But then again, on the plus side she lives in Edinburgh, one of only four foreign cities I've visited, which also includes Dublin, London and Montreal and Montreal barely counts because it's Canada and we drove there. And really Dublin doesn't count either because I was there for a job and barely got to see anything outside my hotel room and the office.

Anyway, I have vivid and fond memories of Edinburgh, which I visited with my daughter five years ago to see the Fringe Festival. Various locales, some of which I visited, are described in the novels, which is a nice cozy familiar feeling.

And then there's this - early in the second novel in the series, while Isabel is working in her niece's cheese shop, she observes:
Most people led their lives this way: doing, rather than thinking. They acted, rather than thought about acting; this made philosophy a luxury - the privilege of those who didn't have to spend their time cutting cheese and wrapping bread. From the perspective of the cheese counter, Schopenhauer seemed far away.

Which I found a fascinating coincidence - the passage echoes some lines in my J&B script:
The world has to be maintained. That’s why we get paid. We do something worth getting paid for. Nobody wants to pay actors, trust me. And philosophy professors – hah. Philosophy is not so important when you have a stopped-up toilet. And yet philosophy professors are given so much respect.
And Julia is a philosophy professor specializing in Schopenhaur. The novel passage above is the first time that Schopenhauer is mentioned in the series.

So obviously there's much to recommend this series to me - and when you have to keep your eyes closed there aren't many activity options anyway.

One thing I am sure of - the author, Alexander McCall Smith is gay. I tried to confirm this, but so far have not found anything online, but I'd bet big money on it. I don't think there are any detailed descriptions of young women in the books, and I have no idea what Isabel Dalhousie even looks like - I don't think she's been described yet, and she never looks into a mirror.

But he's gone into detail on how beautiful the young men are - and in fact there is an unusually high percentage of beautiful young men in the books, and the author enjoys putting admiring thoughts in the heads of his female characters. At one point Dalhousie's housekeeper gives detailed instructions to one of the beautiful young men on how he could dress sexier. You would never see this kind of thing from a straight male writer.

So that's another point in favor of the series.

Sunday, December 23, 2012

Playbill perspectives

Playbill has re-branded its Broadway database as the Playbill Vault, and it's quite a useful resource. It has information grouped by people, shows, theaters, awards, seasons and grosses all of which are fascinating in themselves and they're all interconnected to give quite a vivid picture of the history of Broadway. The Vault's records go back to the season of 1930-31. And yes my grandfather's cousin Iggie Wolfington is in there. He performed in The Music Man twice, the first time in 1957 as the original Marcellus Washburn (Shipoopie, Shipoopie!) and the second time, in the 1980 revival as Mayor Shinn. Dick Van Dyke was Harold Hill for the 1980 version.

It's interesting, I've never thought of my family as being particularly all-American, but my great-great grandfather fought in the Civil War, for the Union side (thank god!) and Iggie Wolfington appeared on Broadway - and the Civil War and Broadway are about as quintessentially American as you can get. That and three bucks will get you a tall cappuccino at Starbucks, so big whoop, but it's kind of interesting.

But I digress...

While browsing around in the Vault I was quite surprised by how many of the Broadway shows I had never heard of before - and how many shows have had very short runs. I'm not sure how brief a run has to be before a show is considered a flop - not many shows are as notorious as Moose Murders which closed the same night it opened, February 22, 1983.

But take for example the 1980 season which featured The Music Man. I've heard of Your Arms Too Short to Box with God (revival); Amadeus (I saw the 2000 Broadway production - I like the movie better); The Man Who Came to Dinner (revival); Camelot (revival); Brigadoon (revival); The Little Foxes (revival); The Philadelphia Story (revival); and Fifth of July by the dread Lanford Wilson and Pirates of Penzance and MacBeth. But that's about all I'm familiar with and most of them are reivivals.

I've never heard of Fearless Frank nor Perfectly Frank. Fearless is "The life of Welsh author Frank Harris, who chronicled his many affairs in his memoir My Life and Loves" and had 13 previews and 12 performances; and Perfectly is "Songs of Frank Loesser, who wrote for many Hollywood films as well as Broadway's Where's Charley, Guys and Dolls, How to Succeed... and The Most Happy Fella" and had 24 previews and 16 performances.

It's So Nice to Be Civilized is a musical with book, music and lyrics by Micki Grant, who also wrote additional music and lyrics for Your Arms Too Short to Box with God; but while Arms Too Short had 4 previews and 149 performances, Civilized had 23 previews and 8 performances.

Passione ("A wife who abandoned her Italian-American family in Philadelphia returns") had 11 previews and 15 performances in spite of being directed by Frank Langello and starring Jerry Stiller.

The Suicide had 60 performances - I imagine having Derek Jacobi as the lead didn't hurt although I've never heard of the play - this is apparently its first production in spite of being written by Nikolai Erdman in 1928. The plot: "...an unemployed man who fails to learn to play the tuba properly considers suicide, with his neighbor exploiting that suicide to several bidders who want to further their own agendas."

Division Street ("Former 1960s radicals examine their lives from an adult perspective.") had 21 previews and 21 performances. Its author Steve Tesich wrote the equally obscure The Speed of Darkness, produced in 1991.

I've never heard of Lunch Hour ("A group of married couples toy with wife-swapping in the Hamptons.") in spite of the fact that it ran for a respectable 262 performances; it was written by Jean Kerr, author of the smash hit Please Don't Eat the Daisies; and starred Gilda Radner and Sam Waterson. Another "wife-swapping" play Mixed Couples ("Two couples who swapped partners 25 years ago reunite at an airport hanger in New Jersey in 1927") did not do nearly as well with only 7 previews and 9 performances.

I'm very sorry that Onward Victoria was a one-day flop, since it was "A musical biography of the 19th-century feminist icon Victoria Woodhull, who became a millionaire stockbroker and ran for President of the United States on a platform of free love and sexual equality."

Emlyn Williams as Charles Dickens ("Emlyn Williams impersonates the novelist Charles Dickens on one of his famous lecture tours, reading selections from his celebrated novels") is interesting to me since I'm aware that Sam Clemens, who knew a thing or two about performing literary work, was extremely unimpressed by Charles Dickens' stage presentations and wrote "there is no heart, no feeling in it - it is glittering frostwork."

How I Won't Dance found a producer is a complete mystery. The production was a bona-fide flop, closing the day it opened. But not only is the play extremely unpleasant sounding - the synopsis here is "A paraplegic confined to a wheelchair celebrates the recent mysterious murder of his brother and sister-in-law in a diabolic manner" - is there any other manner to "celebrate" a murder? - the author Oliver Hailey already had 2 other bona fide flops under his belt - his First One Asleep, Whistle ("A troubled young mother has a tragic romance with an emotionally immature man.") opened and closed February 26, 1966 and his Father's Day ("Three divorcees bond over their situation and invite their husbands to a cocktail party") opened and closed March 16, 1971. Wow, Arthur Bicknell, author of Moose Murders was never given a second and third chance.

Sidney Michaels, on the other hand had several productions that did well to very well and his Ben Franklin in Paris was nominated for a Tony Award in 1965. He never had a single flop until his Tricks of the Trade which opened and closed on November 6, 1980, in spite of starring George C. Scott. I blame the hideous show logo - I think I owe the New York Neo-Futurist's logo an apology.





Friday, December 21, 2012

Classical music flashmobs are the best


This one is in Sabadell, Spain.

They seem to be singing the Ode to Joy in Spanish.

Thursday, December 20, 2012

Happy New B'ak'tun!

This Mayan document, known as the Dresden Codex, shows a sky caiman vomiting water and has been interpreted as suggesting that modern civilization may end on Dec. 21, 2012.
According to some interpretations of the Mayan calendar, the current world, in which humans have flourished, began 13 b’ak’tuns, or 5,125 years, ago, following three failed worlds, the last of which also lasted 13 b’ak’tuns. And some doomsayers have equated the end of this fourth world with the end of civilization.But the consensus among modern Mayanist scholars is that the end of this 13-b’ak’tun period heralds only the beginning of the next.
More at the NYTimes.

Sometimes a vomiting sky caiman is just a vomiting sky caiman.

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Theater prospects

The economics are looking good for a 2013 production of JULIA & BUDDY - finally! Part of the reason being that I am almost recovered from the massive debt incurred thanks to my 2008 production of JANE EYRE. That was an expensive goddam lesson I hope never to repeat.

And certainly J&B will be way less expensive than JE to produce: only two actors instead of six, modern, not period costumes and a simple staging.

Although not as simple as a production I saw this weekend: the actor I have in mind for JULIA, Claire Warden performed in her theater group's A MIDSUMMER NIGHT'S DREAM as Titania. If they hadn't cast her as Titania I would have boycotted on principle. There was some good stuff in this production although I disagreed with many of the director's choices, especially moving the first "rude mechanicals" scene to the beginning of the play. Changing the sequence of Shakepeare's plays seems to be this particular director's thing - he did it to a production of HAMLET too.

One of the consequences of the DREAM scene change is that Titania ends up being "asleep" on stage for twenty minutes. I would never make an actor lie motionless on stage for twenty minutes, it's absurd.

Anyway, their set was just a bunch of blocks. I took a picture during intermission:


I saw a production of Vonnegut's HAPPY BIRTHDAY WANDA JUNE in this same space and they had a massively tricked-out set. What a contrast.

This is the Access Theater on lower Broadway, and I will never do a production there because it's a four-flight walkup and I don't want to do that to the old people who make up a goodly percentage of any professional theater audience in New York.

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

The Reagan presidency - the gift that keeps on giving

There is a fascinating, creepy part of ANGELS IN AMERICA when Roy Cohn and a fictional Reagan Justice Department official are trying to recruit Joe Pitt to work for Roy, and they talk about appointing conservative judges:
MARTIN
It's a revolution in Washington, Joe. We have a new agenda and finally a real leader. They got back the Senate but we have the courts. By the nineties the Supreme Court will be block-solid Republican appointees, and the Federal bench, Republican judges like landmines, everywhere they turn. Affirmative action? Take it to court. Boom! Land mine. And we'll get our way on just about everything: abortion, defense, Central America, family values, a live investment climate...
Kushner doesn't mention gun control but it appears that the Supreme Court's conservatives have had a more radical-right impact on the interpretation of the Second Amendment than any other issue.

I didn't realize this because I hadn't really paid much attention to gun laws until I got into fights with various gun nuts on Facebook, and ended up doing some research.

I found this fascinating article in the December 17 Bloomberg News:

Gun Debate Must Avoid Crazy Second Amendment Claims

For almost seven decades, the court’s leading decision was U.S. v. Miller. The 1939 case involved a ban on the possession of a sawed-off shotgun. Sounding like Burger, the court unanimously said that the Second Amendment’s “obvious purpose” was “to assure the continuation and render possible the effectiveness of” the militia. Without evidence that the possession of a sawed-off shotgun was related to preservation of a well-regulated militia, the court refused to say that the Second Amendment protected the right to have such a weapon. 
For decades, federal courts overwhelmingly rejected the conclusion that the Second Amendment protects an individual right. It wasn’t until the 21st century that lower federal courts, filled with appointees of Presidents Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush, started to adopt the individual-rights position. And, of course, the Supreme Court itself adopted that view in 2008, by a 5-to-4 vote.
The 2008 case that is considered a "landmark decision" is District of Columbia et. al vs. Heller. And so Heller won the right to his handgun by the Court ruling that the "well-regulated militia" aspect did not matter.
According to Wiki:
In a dissent, joined by Justices Souter, Ginsburg, and Breyer, Justice Stevens said: 
The Amendment’s text does justify a different limitation: the “right to keep and bear arms” protects only a right to possess and use firearms in connection with service in a state-organized militia. Had the Framers wished to expand the meaning of the phrase “bear arms” to encompass civilian possession and use, they could have done so by the addition of phrases such as “for the defense of themselves”
But the Reagan/Bush conservatives won by one vote. 
Kushner may not have predicted the future, but there's one creepy coincidence here - the  fictional Reagan Justice Department official making the case for a Reagan Supreme Court, which made the pro-Heller decision, is named Martin Heller.




Monday, December 17, 2012

The Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence

I joined the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence.

Because sometimes arguing with gun nuts on Facebook just isn't enough.



And I thought The Onion has a pretty good response to the gun nuts:


'Right To Live Life In Complete, Stunned Horror,' Added To Constitution


In the wake of yesterday’s gruesome mass shooting that claimed the lives of 27 people, including 20 schoolchildren, the United States ratified a new constitutional amendment this afternoon guaranteeing American citizens the right to live life in a perpetual state of abject horror. “The provisions of the 28th Amendment will fully protect the right of all individuals to spend every waking moment utterly terrified at the thought of a deranged stranger with a semiautomatic combat rifle gunning them down,” said House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH)...

Sunday, December 16, 2012

G.B. Shaw's bigger than Jesus moment


I was poking around the NYTimes archives to get something interesting to put into the weekly NYCPlaywrights email blast, Apparently Shaw was at it fifty-five years before Lennon...

Although he didn't have nearly the shitstorm - or any really - that Lennon got. Maybe the fact that the news was still traveling by cable - or "special cable" as it says in this article - has something to do with it.

More Shaviana at the NYTimes.

Friday, December 14, 2012

It's time for gun control. NOW.

School Gunman Kills 20 Children in Connecticut

This is a start:


Michigan Gun Bill To End Criminal Background Checks Nixed In Senate
A bill pushed by the National Rifle Association to eliminate criminal background checks for many handgun buyers in Michigan was rejected by state lawmakers Wednesday, after a heavy lobbying effort by law enforcement officials, municipal leaders and gun control advocates.
The bill would have repealed a state law mandating all handgun buyers pass a background check program run by the Michigan State Police, designed to block felons, domestic abusers and the severely mentally ill from obtaining a handgun license. Federal law bars felons from obtaining firearms, but does not mandate private sellers conduct criminal background checks on gun buyers.
The bill sailed through the Michigan House of Representatives in June, but died in the Senate after lawmakers voted overwhelmingly in favor of an alternate measure that eased handgun licensing in the state but retained the criminal background checks. Republicans in Michigan control both state houses and the governorship.
State law enforcement officials, municipal leaders and activists against domestic violence came out strongly against the measure eliminating background checks, warning it would allow illegal guns to fall into the wrong hands.

The above story is important for two reasons - first because it demonstrates just what a pack of extremists the NRA is, and second it demonstrates that the NRA doesn't always win. I've been having FB arguments about gun control and in addition to smacking down gun nuts, I had to deal with all the Droopy Dogs who say we should just give up opposing the NRA because the NRA always wins. That is disgusting defeatist bullshit.

Thursday, December 13, 2012

What do Objectivists really think of "A Christmas Carol"?

Objectivism is a philosophy invented by Ayn Rand that considers selfishness to be the supreme virtue and altruism to be the lowest vice.

Now it's always good fun to parody Ayn Rand and Objectivists - I did it myself in my short play Christmas Blessing. It helps that Rand's novels are laughably bad.

And Christmas especially, with its emphasis on generosity and fellow-man sentiment is a natural enemy of Objectivism.

Charles Dickens' "A Christmas Carol" with its Objectivist hero Ebeneezer Scrooge has been an excellent source of Objectivism parody as in this book, Ayn Rand's Charles Dickens' A Christmas Carol.

But really there's very little that Objectivists actually say that doesn't sound like a parody. Here is what Capitalism Magazine has to say about A Christmas Carol:

...At the heart of this short story lies an abomination: that man— productive man as sordidly portrayed by Dickens— is a being to be stomped into the dust, a creature to be forced to submit to the whims of others. Indeed the very universe demands it. Man’s values are those imposed upon him by others. Chief among these are self-sacrifice, humility and guilt. An Augustinian view of man as “crooked, sordid, bespotted and ulcerous” pervades the work. Individual man cannot aspire to greatness for the sole reason that he is a hopelessly flawed. He simply must accept his lot as a pack animal.

Here are some highlights from an actual Objectivist discussion of A Christmas Carol:

 I have to admit, I actually felt very sorry for poor Ebenezer Scrooge.That the Three Ghosts could emotionally blackmail him  into sharing his wealth
--------
I have always viewed "The Christmas Carol" as little more than a socialists screed against those who are achievers and producers! 
----------
My question is simply; do you think there is a redeemable message in " A Christmas Carol " and is Scrooge a miserable bastard?  Or is Dickens ( Known to be a passionate Socialist ) spreading a sick message of Anti-Greed, Anti-businessman propaganda? 
----------
I believe that "A Christmas Carol" deserves our attention as Objectivists. It is usually presented as one of the most inmoral characterization of altruism ever. Others may think it just speaks about generosity and benevolence. For some it has the germ of British socialism. For others it is just a call to mitigate the inevitable byproducts of capitalism.Maybe it is a mix of many things.
I cherished A Christmas Charol for many years, but after I discovered reason and freedom, I regard it a very toxic product with which, however, we must deal every Christmas season
----------
There's no doubt this was one of the most evil books I ever had the misfortune of reading. Scrooge indeed represents the most persecuted minority in the US today: big business. This horrible, evil book just sowed seeds of anti-capitalist fervor in the ranks of the so-called intellegentsia and media, and could have been indirectly responsible for the social fascist Obama getting elected. 
----------

Ho ho ho!

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Fun Joni coincidence

The day after I wrote a blog post in appreciation of a song by Joni Mitchell, novelist Zadie Smith has a piece in this week's New Yorker about how she came to love the music of Joni Mitchell.

Unfortunately the article is behind the paywall except for this abstract.

Although I would have preferred if Smith had talked more about the music and less about various tangents.

I especially enjoyed this:
...I truly cannot understand the language of my former heart. Who was that person? Petulant, hardly aware that she was humming Joni, not yet conscious of the transformation she had already undergone. How is it possible to hate something so completely and then suddenly love it so unreasonably?

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

A "Conversation" appreciation



Joni Mitchell's "Big Yellow Taxi" was the big hit from her 1970 album Ladies of the Canyon. "Woodstock" and "The Circle Game" are also faves for many people, but for my money the best song is "Conversation."

It's about the singer's love for a man who is involved with someone else. As so often happens, the singer then criticizes the man's lover for not caring enough about him:

She removes him like a ring
To wash her hands
She only brings him out to show her friends


And also:

But I know she keeps him down
She speaks in sorry sentences
Miraculous repentances
I don't believe her

It's very reminiscent of the attitude of Nice Guys. Although unlike them Joni Mitchell doesn't suggest the singer believes she is being rejected because she is "too nice." But then, few women feel that they are owed sex merely for being "nice" - it's pounded into our heads from the time we can understand words that what really matters about women is what we look like. Not our personalities, our talents, our intelligence, our good deeds. Nothing matters even one-hundredth of a percent as much as what we look like.

Men of course get a much different message, growing up.

But I digress.

Here are the full lyrics.

He comes for conversation
I comfort him sometimes
Comfort and consultation
He knows that's what he'll find

I bring him apples and cheeses
He brings me songs to play
He sees me when he pleases
I see him in cafes

And I only say hello
And turn away before his lady knows
How much I want to see him
She removes him like a ring
To wash her hands
She only brings him out to show her friends
I want to free him.

Secrets and sharing soda
That's how our time began
Love is a story told to a friend
It's second hand.

But I'll listen to his questions
I'll give my answers when they're found
He says she keeps him guessing
But I know she keeps him down
She speaks in sorry sentences
Miraculous repentances
I don't believe her
Tomorrow he will come to me
And he'll speak his sorrow endlessly and ask me why
Why can't I leave her?

He comes for conversation
I comfort him sometimes
Comfort and consultation
He knows that's what he'll find.


The jangly guitar is wonderful and the lyrics are great, but what keeps me listening to this song again and again without getting tired of it is - and this is no joke, the chorus at the end that goes: deet-dah-deet-dee-dee-dee-dah-dee-dah-deet-dee-deet - etc. Along with the saxophone and the trilling flute.

Monday, December 10, 2012

Much ~ neglected Courant

I've had no time to work on my New England Courant project in the past couple of months and it's very frustrating. A full-time job does take up so much of one's time!

I can't resist sharing this discussion of the Hell Fire Club from James Franklin, who was mightily annoyed when someone from the Cotton Mather camp compared the contributors of the Courant to them. This is from the February 12, 1722 issue of the Courant:

The following Account of the Hell Fire Club, &c. (printed in London) I lately receiv'd from a Gentleman, who by his Office is oblig'd to make Enquiry, whether any of his Majesty's Subjects here are guilty of the like horrid Impieties, as has been insinuated of late, by the sworn enemies of the Courant; and, to do some Justice to the Country, and conclude ( I hope) the present Quarrel, shall here insert it. 
The Hell-Fire Club consisted of about forty Persons of both sexes; fifteen of them were said to be Ladies of considerable Quality: They blasphemously assumed to them-selves the tremendous Names of God the Father, God the Holy Ghost, St. John the Baptist, the Prophet Enoch, Elisa, Samuel, Jeremiah, Joshua, Isaiah, the Twelve Patriarchs, Moses, Aron, the Blessed Virgin Mary, Mary Magdalen, St. Martha, King David; and the Twelve Apostles, Joseph the Father of Jesus. 
The Parts acted by the Demi Red Dragon Club, were Belzebub of Hell, Old Pluto, the old devil, old Aeacus, the young Devil, the old Dragon, the Serpent, Lady Envy, Lady Malice, Proserpina Queen of Hell, the Three fatal sisters. 
The Parts acted by the Sulphur Club were Sodom and Gomorrah, Pride, Lust, Anger, Revenge, Poligamy, Incest, Adultery, Fornication, Self Defiler, & c. 
Under these Distinctions did they abuse all Piety, and ridicule, the Attributes and Perfections of the Blessed Trinity, in a manner very unfit to be related.
Their chief Place of Rendezvous was some Time in Conduct Street, Near Hanover Square, or else at a House in Westminster, or at Somerset House, where they erected an Altar dedicated to the Devil having Two Devils on the Frame thereof. They usually set round an Oval-table, and each having assum'd Such Names as above mention'd, began with an Impious Health to the Devil. 
Four of these daring Wretches were, ('tis to be fear'd) cut off in the midst of their Impieties, by the Hand of Divine Vengeance. Two of them in a Debauch is Somerset House on the Lord's Day, who caused Musick to be play'd to them in the Time of Divine Service, one of whom, who then drank a most Blasphemous Health, dy'd the same Evening, and the other soon after. A young Lady, who, as 'tis Said, call'd herself the Blessed Virgin, dy'd in the Flower of her Youth. The other a Woman of Distinction, dy'd at Dinner. 
These Impious Cabals soon reach'd the Ears of his most sacred Majesty, who out of tender Regard to the Spiritual Welfare of his People, order'd his Ministers of State to take proper Methods to suppress such Detestable Practices, Whereupon an Order of Council was issued out for that purpose. 
I shall make no other Remarks upon this Account, than what I find in a paragraph of the London Journal May 13, on the same Occasion, and leave those who have stigmatiz'd the suppose'd Authors of the Courant with the Name of a Hell-Fire Club to apply it. 
These Societies must certainly be as distracted as they are impious: I have indeed been in doubt till now, whether there really were any such; but am in no doubt about the Punishment they deserve: I think it ought to be the most severe that is due to such raving Wickedness, which is such, as neither Youth nor Wine can excuse, nor indeed extenuate; and until they are further Punished, I think the darkest Holes in Bedlam ought to be their Portion. But, outrageous and godless as they are, they do not merit more Detestation and severity, than do those who inhumanely give out, that Gentlemen, who abhor such Clubs are Members of them: The Authors of so dreadful a Calumny, are much worse than Murderers, because they endeavor to take away from Men something much dearer than Life: They are therefore in the Class with Demons, and earn such mighty Vengeance as God only can inflict.
Some items of interest from the above passage:

  • I had heard of the Hell-Fire Club long before reading the Courant. In fact I had heard of it in connection with Ben Franklin's membership. As Wikipedia tells it:
Benjamin Franklin is known to have occasionally attended the club's meetings during 1758 as a non-member during his time in England. However, some authors and historians would argue Benjamin Franklin was in fact a spy. As there are no records left (if there were any at all), many of these members are just assumed or linked by letters sent to each other.[29]
        You have to wonder what James would have thought of this, but he died in 1735.

  • The Hell-Fire Club was the most famous, but if the Courant's informant is correct, there were two sister dens of impiety, the Demi Red Dragon Club, and the Sulphur Club. The Sulphur has the least glamorous name, but the best parts to act, including Lust, Fornication and Self-Defiler.
  • You just know that this issue of the Courant had a nice sales boost thanks to the exciting tales of impiety.
  • Franklin admits to being horrified by the impiousness, but then turns around and suggests that Mather & friends are worse than murderers for making the comparison:
But, outrageous and godless as they are, they do not merit more Detestation and severity, than do those who inhumanely give out, that Gentlemen, who abhor such Clubs are Members of them: The Authors of so dreadful a Calumny, are much worse than Murderers...
         James Franklin was not about to put up with any shit from Cotton Mather.

Sunday, December 09, 2012

Argo finally


I finally got to see Argo this weekend. It's very good. The clip above is Fareed Zakaria interviewing Tony Mendez, the guy portrayed by Ben Affleck.

I've never thought too much about Affleck in terms of masculine charms, and this movie doesn't exactly focus on the erotic, but I have to say he is a fine-looking man. His one brief shirtless scene confirms it as well as a shot from that back that silhouettes his broad shoulders and narrow hips - nice. And not everybody is able to pull off that 1970s look, as the balding guys with gigantic glasses (two of the escapees) demonstrate. Although to be fair Affleck wasn't force to wear a moustache only look and didn't have the bug-eyed goggles.

There aren't alot of clips available of the movie, but this brief one has one of the best lines.

Saturday, December 08, 2012

Our Contributors

I've neglected the New Yorker Parity Report in the past several months. My only excuse is that the monotony was getting to me.  During the time I was tracking the female contributor ratio - almost a year - not a single issue of the New Yorker had an equal number of male and female contributors.

The closest to parity was July 30, 2012 issue which had a 38% female contributor rate (parity would be 50%) and would even have made parity except for the three male poets in the issue.

This week (December 10, 2012) the parity rate is 15%.

They no longer allow a non-paywall link to the magazine's table of contents but they do to the "Shouts and Murmurs" pages (posted here for your convenience with a star next to each female contributor) and the list of contributors demonstrates a parity rate of 17%. These are their regulars, not one-off writers, and is probably the real barometer of the New Yorker's acceptance of female participation.

As an experiment, I clicked on a back issue of the New Yorker at random. I got the February 9, 1981 issue - 30 years ago. Out of the ten bylines, four are female. That's right, 30 years ago the parity rate for a randomly-selected issue of the New Yorker was 40%.

At the rate the New Yorker is going it will have an equal number of male and female bylines... never.

Friday, December 07, 2012

Don Draper brings back iPhone from the future


I love this photo. I originally saw it in this week's New York magazine and the camera guy on the right was cropped out. I've finally seen all episodes of Mad Men and the attention to period detail is so complete that it's hard to remember sometimes that Jon Hamm does not live in the mid-1960s. And so this image - and it helps that it's a black and white photo - seemed to be not an actor on a TV set, but an episode of Mad Men where Don Draper discovers a time machine and visits the 2010s and comes back with an iPhone. 

Thursday, December 06, 2012

Fascinating tales of men's formalwear

As an androphile, I'm always interested in masculine-based aesthetic studies and so found this web site The Black Tie Guide very interesting - even more so because the site is chock full of fascinating facts, especially, but not only about the Regency period (my favorite for men's fashions.) And it's significant that this history of men's formalwear begins with the Regency period.

Regency Origins: The Tale of the Tailcoat


The interesting irony of formal attire is that almost without exception, every aspect of the masculine evening costume derives from the sport of horseback riding.
Elegance: A Quality Guide to Menswear

But that irony is nothing compared to this:

The English nobility's adaptation of the common man's clothing was also inspired by British sympathizers of the egalitarian principles of French and American revolutionaries.  

In their rejection of their colonial masters, American rebels turned to their French brothers-in-arms for their fashion cues which became ironic when the new French elite began importing the gentrified English look.   




The dude has a blog - here he critiques Daniel Craig's look at the Skyfall premiere. He pretty much likes it but feels that Craig's jacket is too tight.

But it's a bitch-fest over the GQ Men of the Year 

Wednesday, December 05, 2012

Another Jazz Christmas



 As I observed lo these three years ago, jazz Christmas music is the best Christmas music. And I treated myself to a bunch of new jazz Christmas music this year.

Tuesday, December 04, 2012

Yes, he's definitely lost it

I'm not surprised that Mamet's latest play THE ANARCHIST was crap and panned by almost all critics - and you should see the readers comments on the NYTimes review. Even John Lahr, who worships all macho manly playwrights, panned it in the New Yorker.

As I've said a couple of times here already, Mamet is losing it. His ranting paranoia has only gotten worse since he first came out of the closet as a conservative in the Village Voice almost five years ago.

Some of the critics made references to Mamet's politics, but only the Chicago Tribune explicitly connects the subject of The Anarchist to nutty conspiracy theories about the Obamas. Which seems entirely plausible to me - I am still convinced that Mamet's inspiration for RACE was the right-wing claim that the college thesis of Michelle Obama - a successful black female lawyer - was all about "get whitey." Could it really be a coincidence that the big reveal about the successful black female lawyer character in RACE is that she wrote a college thesis that was all about "get whitey"? Although it seems like nobody except me and a right-wing blogger picked up on it.

But Mamet could write virtually anything now and get it produced because he is a canonized Great Man of the Arts and nobody is going to tell him no, ever. He's going to keep on writing and it's going to keep getting produced no matter how embarrassingly incoherent and paranoid it gets until Rebecca Pidgeon has to have him carted off to a long-term healthcare facility. And he may still get produced even then.

Which I do feel bad about, him losing it like that. I wouldn't wish dementia on my worst enemy.

Maybe it's just because I'm a liberal but I can't help thinking that Mamet's deranged right-wing hatred of our president and First Lady is a displacement - Mamet has a slowly but steadily growing sensation that something's not right in the world, there are insidious things lurking in the shadows, plotting to steal everything from him. Instead of realizing that the sensation is caused by his failing mind, he believes - aided and abetted by Rush Limbaugh and Glenn Beck - that the covetous merciless darkness is Barack and Michelle Obama. 

Deranged millionaire goes Galt

The Daily Show with Jon StewartMon - Thurs 11p / 10c
A Deranged Millionaire Shrugs
www.thedailyshow.com
Daily Show Full EpisodesPolitical Humor & Satire BlogThe Daily Show on Facebook


Speaking of John Hodgman's deranged millionaire character, the bit he did on the Daily Show last week called "A Deranged Millionaire Shrugs" is genius. For so long I wished someone would do an enactment of what would really happen when Objectivists and Libertarians finally shut up and decided to go Galt - the rest of us would be thrilled to let them go.

Monday, December 03, 2012

The NYTimes speaks the truth

Well finally I've seen it acknowledged in print - women get bored of routine sex with the same partner faster than men do. It's in Sunday's NYTimes:
And studies show that in long-term relationships, women are more likely than men to lose interest in sex, and to lose it sooner. Why? Because women’s idea of passionate sex depends far more centrally on novelty than does men’s.
This runs counter to all the dearly held beliefs of evolutionary psychologists, who insist that because society has always enforced monogamy for women more than men, it means that women are "naturally" more monogamous than men. 

And absurdly, someone in the comments section said this:
Balderdash. This kind of afternoon talk show psychobabble drivel is why evolutionary psychology is getting such a bad name these days.
This person clearly doesn't know what evolutionary psychology actually claims.

Also - "balderdash"? really? Who wrote this, John Hodgman's deranged millionaire character?

It's always been my experience in long-term relationships that I get bored of sex with him long before he gets bored of sex with me. Now it's true that I'm a one-man woman, so when I'm into a guy I'm really into him, and nobody else. But eventually the boredom sets in. That's why so many women are serial monogamists.

Evolutionary psychologists would have me believe I'm some kind of unnatural freak because in their essentialist view of the world, men must have variety to "spread their seed" while women are supposed to be content to be stuck at home with the kids.

Which is clearly the most self-serving myth that men have invented since the Garden of Eden.