Saturday, December 31, 2005

Shakespeare under the picnic table

New Years Eve always reminds me of Shakespeare. Because my worst New Years Eve to date was spent on a Philadelphia train when I was semi-homeless and heading for my ex-husband's apartment with the complete annotated works of William Shakespeare under my arm. My ex-husband wasn't home so I had to go back from whence I came. I was too tired to lug Shakespeare back again so I left the set of books under the picnic table, out of the freezing rain and went to catch a bus, only to have my last five dollars stolen when I gave it to somebody who said he had change.

When I got back late New Year's Day, there was Shakespeare, under the picnic table. I was greatly relieved. This was in the days before easy access to the Internet, before you could just go online and read the complete works of Shakespeare for free.

I fell in love with Shakespeare years before I became a playwright - I wanted to be an illustrator then. I had been exposed to Shakespeare in high school but Julius Caesar is not really the right way to get teenagers interested in Big Bill. I mean, in theory I could see that it was a good play, but who really cared about a bunch of guys in togas babbling about the ides of March?

I was nineteen when I saw the BBC's version of As You Like It on public television. I just couldn't believe how great it was, and in ways I didn't expect. The female characters, especially Rosalind and her cousin Celia, were witty, affectionate and fun, and they win in the end, and the story, though fanciful and even silly in spots, had some great banter and fun situations - like when Rosalind dresses as a boy and then makes hottie Orlando woo her as Rosalind. It really blew my mind.

So I was excited to get A. L. Rowse's "The Annotated Shakespeare" for Christmas that year. It's a handsome three-volume set not only annotated but copiously illustrated too. Thanks to the Internet (how did we make it before the Internet?) I find that Rowse was a big deal in the world of Shakespeare scholarship. He has an entry in the Encylopedia Britannica's Guide to Shakespeare. He died in 1997 and I was surprised to read that he was gay because throughout his Annotated work he really emphasizes Shakespeare's heterosexuality, which I think is still pretty disputable - I think Shakespeare may well have been bisexual.

Less suprisingly Rowse was a Stratfordian - that is, on the question of the identity of the author of Julius Caesar and As You Like It and others he believed that it was a guy from Stratford-on-Avon, the son of a glover and sometime wool merchant. Rowse's family was working class and those of us from non-exalted backgrounds tend to be resistant to Oxfordian (partisans of Edward de Vere, Earl of Oxford) arguments which are mainly based on snobbery - 'how could Shakespeare know so much about royalty and the law and anything that takes any thought whatsoever when he was working class?' There is an excellent web site, The Shakespeare Authorship Page that answers arguments from Oxfordians, Marlovians, Baconians and all the others.

Another good Stratfordian whose work I discovered via public television, is Michael Wood. His book "Shakespeare" is a companion to his four part series In Search of Shakespeare. He not only demostrates that there is plenty of evidence that the guy from Stratford wrote the plays, he makes a good case that strife between the new Church of England and the Roman Catholic Church had a big impact on Shakespeare's personal life and work. He also provides a reproduction of the "Grafton Portrait" (see above) and speculates that it might be a painting of a young Shakespeare. The young man in the Grafton has alot in common with later portraits of Shakespeare: the big forehead, the heavy eyelids, the sensitive mouth and pointed chin.

There is a belief in the theatre world that the plays of Shakespeare are so great and so popular because of the language. I think this is wrong. Very often the language is so poetic or plain obscure that only people who have spent time studying the plays - like (ahem) reading annotated versions - have a real appreciation of what's being said. And it isn't just not understanding; there are times when what's being said is confusing or misleading.

For example, when Hamlet sees the ghost of his father for the first time he wants to go after him. But Horatio and Marcellus try to hold him back, and he says:

Unhand me, gentlemen. By heaven, I'll make a ghost of him that lets me!

By "lets" he means (as Rowse helpfully annotates) "hinders" and that made sense to the Elizabethans, but it means exactly the opposite in contemporary usage.

No, I think there are two main reasons for Shakespeare's popularity in the modern repertory. First because of his plots. He borrowed many of his plots, but always added his own details to increase the excitement. That's why West Side Story and Ten Things I Hate About You to come up with just two off the top of my head, are considered remakes of Romeo and Juliet and Taming of the Shrew, in spite of using none of Shakespeare's language.

The other reason for Shakespeare's popularity is that he wrote decent parts for women. You can't say that about plenty of contemporary playwrights. Shakespeare's work stands out from so many playwrights for the sheer variety of female parts - from clever Rosalind to innocent Ophelia to crafty Lady MacBeth to stalwart Mistress Quickly to sadistic Goneril. Men still get far more and more various parts of course, but that's to be expected for a time when women couldn't even act on the public stage. Shakespeare had more of an excuse than contemporary playwrights.

Friday, December 30, 2005

Bush declares war on NYTimes

The NYTimes revealed the Bush gang's illegal spy network and Bush & Co. are out to get them and the whistle-blower.

The Justice Department has opened an investigation into the leak of classified information about President Bush's secret domestic spying program, Justice officials said Friday.

The officials, who requested anonymity because of the sensitivity of the probe, said the inquiry will focus on disclosures to The New York Times about warrantless surveillance conducted by the National Security Agency since the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.

More at the NYTimes

My guess is that the Bush Administration thought they had an understanding with the NYTimes - clearly the Times was in league with the Bushies on the Iraq War - but when the Times revealed it cut a deal with the Administration before the election not to reveal the spy network, the Bush Crime Syndicate declared war on the NYTimes. This Justice Department investigation is the declaration of war.

Read Media Matters for America's 'Top 12 media myths and falsehoods on the Bush administration's spying scandal'

Thursday, December 29, 2005

Scalia's distinguished acting career

As a playwright I'm always interested in theatre-related trivia. Not enough people are aware of Antonin Scalia's acting accomplishments, as revealed in a New Yorker article in March of this year:

Scalia was an excellent student, a debate champion, and an enthusiastic actor. (He played the lead in "Macbeth" and the angel Gabriel in "The Green Pastures," which a school publication described as "a humorous characterization of the Negro interpretation of the Bible." Another student was "De Lawd.")

Wednesday, December 28, 2005

Why OUR TOWN is great

There is a segment of the theatre world who consider Thorton Wilder's play OUR TOWN nothing but a bunch of sentiment and nostalgia. You would think that people who care about theater would tend to be more sensitive, perceptive and empathetic than the general population. But you would be wrong.

But those of us who pay attention recognize that OUR TOWN is every bit as abstract, philosophical and intense a portrayal of the human condition as WAITING FOR GODOT.

Part of the problem of OUR TOWN is that it is popular and frequently done by amateur outfits and community theatre. This automatically makes it mind-poison to those who consider themselves cutting edge and who crave novelty for its own sake to satisfy their jaded sensibilities and fill up their vast stretches of free time.

GODOT is popular too, but it ranks higher in the theatre world's hipometer for a few reasons. One, because there are no females in GODOT, and Samuel Beckett's storm troopers scour the world looking for any attempts to cast females in any of the four roles of GODOT. This abhorrence of the feminine fits very comfortably in today's theatre world. Theatre people at the present time are very anxious about feminization. The fear is that although literature has "chick-lit" and film has "chickflicks" - concepts that safely ghettoize and stigmatize art aimed at the majority (51%) of the human race - the entire theatre world is in danger of becoming chick. This is why the current fashion is for plays that reject anything soft or humane, culminating in THE PILLOWMAN with its torture death of a little girl.

The other big strike against OUR TOWN is that it portrays non-disfunctional families. This is an absolute taboo in contemporary theatre. Critics and playwrights and directors, who mostly come from the upper class, like nothing so much as a good wallow in the squalor and disfunction of the bourgeoisie. OUR TOWN gives them the exact opposite of what they crave.

This is not to say that there is no pain and suffering in OUR TOWN. In fact, the pain and suffering are so affecting exactly because the characters who experience them have been shown to us in their mundane existences. Existences with facets that are familiar even to members of the upper class, like parents and siblings and breakfast and love.

But to be a hipster, as you must be to be a respectable theatre person in New York, you must divorce yourself from common human emotions, especially soft, sympathetic, "feminine" emotions.

That's why GODOT will remain more respectable than OUR TOWN - it's about the human condition, but it's not overly emotional about it. If OUR TOWN is done right, and you aren't a block of ice, it will make you cry. And boys don't cry.

It's a fact that the New York theatre world is longing for its very own Quentin Tarantino - young, male, macho, violent, opposed to feminine weakness.

There are plenty of young men who heed the call. As the founder of a playwrights group with an open-door policy, I've seen my share of them.

Case in point: a former member of my group wrote a play called ANATHEMAVILLE which is supposedly his response to OUR TOWN. He did a production in the past year, and it was reviewed by Martin Denton in As he says:

Venters uses the classic play Our Town as point of departure and framing device. Venters co-opts the structure of Thornton Wilder's play, most of its famous scenes and images (i.e., he gets two characters up on ladders talking about life near the end of Act I; shows us his young couple on a date in a 21st century shopping-center version of a drug store; etc.), and even makes use of a narrator (Uber-Mart greeter/security guard Leo stands in for the earlier play's Stage Manager). Venters's notion, I presume, is to juxtapose the idyllic American way of life supposedly depicted in Our Town with the crass present-day plastic life epitomized by mass-marketing goliaths like his Uber-Mart.

Alas, here's where Venters starts to go badly astray, for he makes the wrong assumption about Our Town (i.e., that it's sentimental claptrap) and indulges in parody—of the Wilder play, not of life in Wal-Mart-Land.

I'm glad that Denton understands how wrong Venters is about OUR TOWN.

I didn't see the production, I only heard a table reading a year before, so perhaps the script changed somewhat - although I doubt it. In the table reading, one female character recounts her childhood sexual abuse, and it is played for laughs - she's raped in "funny" ways with various articles of food. When I expressed my disgust after the reading was through, I was shocked to find that nobody else had a problem with this. The problem was me - I was taking it too seriously, according to them.

The playwright was not only a young attractive white male, he had tattoos and various facial piercings. No way my opinions would count against such a paragon of hipness.

I am grateful that of the two reviews I found for the show, both slammed ANATHEMAVILLE. I think it's more because of the flagrant self-indulgence of the play, which came in at four hours with two intermissions than the wanton and pointless cruelty. And of course Ben Brantley of the NYTimes never got to see it - he might have loved it as much as he loved PILLOWMAN.

Another show that was just as bad for many of the same reasons was recently produced by another former member of my group. APATHY was not as universally panned as ANATHEMAVILLE, because apathy, being devoid of those unsightly feminine emotions is just too fucking hip. But believe me when I tell you this play is a huge reeking turd. In fact, I'd say it's worse than ANATHEMAVILLE because at least that play was trying to say something about Wal-Mart, albeit in an absolutely incoherent manner.

APATHY is about a bunch of assholes sitting around being mean to each other, pointlessly and endlessly. The play's hero is a fucktard who makes prank phone calls to his senile grandmother. Plus, oh joy of joys, half-assed rock tunes, which makes this into a "musical."

The author provides the best review on his web site which says: "Apathy: The Gen X Musical is full of the kind of people who'd annoy the hell out of you if you were dumb enough to attempt a friendship with them. But at a safe emotional distance, they can be very entertaining."

I agree - if you think having a root canal is entertaining.

These people are just wanking off, and nothing that they do will be remembered in ten years. Because while posing as too cool for soft "feminine" emotions may make you popular with the idiots who decide such things, it will make you write nasty forgettable plays.

OUR TOWN does not shrink from empathy, even for females and the middle-class. And unapologetic, abundant empathy is the critical ingredient for a great play.

More about OUR TOWN

PBS web site

OUR TOWN at Amazon

The video version with Spalding Gray as the Stage Manager, my favorite.

Aaron Copland wrote the score for the 1940 movie version of the play. It has a beautiful, haunting theme.

- - - - -

Some critics had second thoughts about THE PILLOWMAN:

Charles Isherwood of the NYTimes


Charles McNulty in the Village Voice

Tuesday, December 27, 2005


Before he has created an unstoppable dictatorship

Jonathan Alter: "We’re seeing clearly now that Bush thought 9/11 gave him license to act like a dictator..."

The Nation: the I-Word is Gaining Ground

Alternet: A Time to Impeach

Vote to Impeach Bush

Impeach Bush

Impeach Bush Coalition


Monday, December 26, 2005

Jennifer Aniston is stalking me

She's everywhere! I take a drive through the city - on billboards and taxis and the sides of a bus. I go to the supermarket - there she is again, by the checkout lane. I go home to escape but it's NO USE! All the blogs I like to visit - there she IS! And this time she brought that Everybody Loves Raymond guy who I've always hated!

I can't take it anymore! Leave me alone, Jennifer Aniston! What have I DONE to deserve this??? I don't care about your love life, and I don't want to see your movies or your TV shows.

Please go away.

Friday, December 23, 2005

Krugman on the tax cut zombies

Here's how I see it: Republicans have turned into tax-cut zombies. They can't remember why they originally wanted to cut taxes, they can't explain how they plan to make up for the lost revenue, and they don't care. Instead, they just keep shambling forward, always hungry for more.

more at the NYTimes

Thursday, December 22, 2005

Bush Spy Ring 3 - NYC cops join the chorus

We will spy too, disguised as you!

Undercover New York City police officers have conducted covert surveillance in the last 16 months of people protesting the Iraq war, bicycle riders taking part in mass rallies and even mourners at a street vigil for a cyclist killed in an accident, a series of videotapes show.

In glimpses and in glaring detail, the videotape images reveal the robust presence of disguised officers or others working with them at seven public gatherings since August 2004.

The officers hoist protest signs. They hold flowers with mourners. They ride in bicycle events. At the vigil for the cyclist, an officer in biking gear wore a button that said, "I am a shameless agitator." She also carried a camera and videotaped the roughly 15 people present.


When David Brooks is You

When Big Brother Is You
Published: December 22, 2005

Let's play "You're the President." Let's put you in the Oval Office and see what kind of decisions you make in real-world circumstances.

Because you are president, you are briefed each day on terrorist threats to this country. These briefings are as psychologically intense as an episode of "24," with descriptions of specific bad guys and their activities.

But if the briefing says "Bin Laden determined to strike in the United States" you won't become unduly concerned.

This has had a cumulative effect on your psychology. While many of your fellow citizens have relaxed as 9/11 has faded into history,

you will take more and longer vacations than any other President in history

you don't have that luxury. Your briefings, and some terrifying false alarms that haven't been made public,

unless they can be used to pump up your re-election campaign or deflect from political embarrassments

keep you in a perpetual state of high alert.

So much so that you will refuse to read newspapers, preferring to get all your information from yes men

You know that one of the few advantages we have over the terrorists is technological superiority.

because your yes men told you so.

You are damned sure you are going to use every geek, every computer program and every surveillance technique at your disposal to prevent a future attack.

Unless the geek is gay.

You have inherited the FISA process to regulate this intelligence gathering. It's a pretty good process. FISA judges usually issue warrants quickly and, when appropriate, retroactively.

But the FISA process has shortcomings.

It doesn't allow you to monitor groups simply because you consider them political enemies

First, it's predicated on a division between foreign and domestic activity that has been rendered obsolete by today's mobile communications methods. Second, the process still involves some cumbersome paperwork and bureaucratic foot-dragging. Finally, the case-by-case FISA method is ill suited to the new information-gathering technologies, which include things like automated systems that troll through vast amounts of data looking for patterns, voices and chains of contacts.

Over time you've become convinced that these new technologies, which are run by National Security Agency professionals and shielded from political influence,

just like FEMA, the EPA, the Commerce Department, the FDA, the CIA, the NOAA, and the military

help save lives. You've seen that these new surveillance techniques helped foil an attack on the Brooklyn Bridge and bombing assaults in Britain. The question is, How do you regulate the new procedures to protect liberties?

Your aides present you with three options. First, you can ask Congress to rewrite the FISA law to keep pace with the new technologies. This has some drawbacks. How exactly do you write a law to cope with this fast-changing information war? Even if you could set up a procedure to get warrant requests to a judge, how would that judge be able to tell which of the thousands of possible information nodes is worth looking into, or which belongs to a U.S. citizen? Swamped in the data-fog, the courts would just become meaningless rubber-stamps. Finally, it's likely that some member of Congress would leak details of the program during the legislative process, thus destroying it.

Your second option is to avoid Congress and set up a self-policing mechanism using the Justice Department and the N.S.A.'s inspector general. This option, too, has drawbacks. First, it's legally dubious. Second, it's quite possible that some intelligence bureaucrat will leak information about the programs, especially if he or she hopes to swing a presidential election against you. Third, if details do come out and Congressional leaders learn you went around them, there will be blowback that will not only destroy the program, but will also lead to more restrictions on executive power.

You will choose this option. You will ensure that the paper I write for helps you get re-elected by refusing to share what it knows about your choice with the public.

Your third option is informal Congressional oversight. You could pull a few senior members of Congress into your office and you could say: "Look, given the fast-moving nature of this conflict, there is no way we can codify rules about what is permissible and impermissible. Instead we will create a social contract. I'll trust you by telling you everything we are doing to combat terror. You'll trust me enough to give me the flexibility I need to keep the country safe. If we have disagreements, we will work them out in private."

These are your three options, Mr. President, and these are essentially the three options George Bush faced a few years ago. (He chose Option 2.)

And then he bragged about it it in a speech.

But before you decide, let me tell you one more thing: Options 1 and 2 won't work, and Option 3 is impossible.

Options 1 and 2 won't work because they lead to legalistic rigidities and leaks that will destroy the program. Option 3 is impossible because it requires trust. It requires that the president and the Congressional leaders trust one another. It requires Democrats and Republicans to trust one another. We don't have that kind of trust in America today.

Because you have used the political capital gained during the aftermath of 9/11 to divide the country through smears against opponents, homophobia, religious intolerance, denial of global warming and a systematic attack on the social safety net to please your corporate masters.

That leaves you with Option 4: Face the fact that we will not be using our best technology to monitor the communications of known terrorists. Face the fact that the odds of an attack on America just went up.

Confidential to GWB & DC - please remember my loyalty after you've used this inevitable second attack to gain absolute power.

Wednesday, December 21, 2005

Best fun links ever

At least one of these fun links WILL make you laugh:

How to Dance Properly - I first saw this on Majikthese. - I just don't know why these bad Japanese to English translations are so funny, but they really are. And they have a cumulative effect - the more you read, the funnier they are.

Tom Cruise Kills Oprah - I don't know how I missed this suckah when it first came out.

Tuesday, December 20, 2005

Bush Spy Ring 2

It's my country and I'll spy if I want to
spy if I want to, spy if I want to,
The FBI too will be spying on you.

F.B.I. Watched Activist Groups, New Files Show

The F.B.I. had previously turned over a small number of documents on antiwar groups, showing the agency's interest in investigating possible anarchist or violent links in connection with antiwar protests and demonstrations in advance of the 2004 political conventions. And earlier this month, the A.C.L.U.'s Colorado chapter released similar documents involving, among other things, people protesting logging practices at a lumber industry gathering in 2002.

The latest batch of documents, parts of which the A.C.L.U. plans to release publicly on Tuesday, totals more than 2,300 pages and centers on references in internal files to a handful of groups, including PETA, the environmental group Greenpeace and the Catholic Workers group, which promotes antipoverty efforts and social causes.

But it turns out the NYTimes sat on the spy story for the 2004 election!
Read about it in the LA Times

Monday, December 19, 2005

An Open Letter to Paul McCartney

Look, Dude. What the hell is this dealie with Fidelity Investments all about?

Why, Paul, why? I was out there defending you, bro. Any time there's an argument about who was better, or who was more important to the Beatles, the de rigueur hepcat response is "John". Well I was always jumping right in there speaking up for you - you, the genius musician who can play any instrument. Even Lennon admitted as much - when they asked him "is Ringo the best drummer in world?" he said "he isn't even the best drummer in the Beatles." He was talking about you Paul! And you were responsible for Sgt. Pepper, and you kept things going when John was happy to lay around in bed for peace or taking heroine with Yoko. And besides, you're a good guy - a good husband, a great father, and a caring son. Now you're a knight and a billionaire and millions of people love you.

So WHY are you allowing Fidelity Investments to parade you around like a cheap whore? Sure, they make a big deal out of how great you are, with their service marked motto over your head "The key is, never stop doing what you love.SM"

Is that what you really love Paul? Shilling for a bunch of money-mongers? Cause you can't be doing it for the cash. You don't need Fidelity's money! You're the fucking First National British Bank of McCartney, dude - you can virtually print your own money: put out a record, paint some pictures, write a fucking book called "All about me and John Lennon." Or just sit there and collect those Beatles and Wings royalties (I bought Band on the Run twice - first on vinyl, then on CD) and proceeds from Linda's vegetarian meals. You make money no matter what.

So why are you shilling for Fidelity Investments? Investments aren't about creating new wealth through hard work and talent, which is what the Beatles did in their heyday. Investments are about sitting back and watching the dough grow while the lackeys do the work. Is that really what you want to be associated with? It's so goddamn unseemly.

And it can't be the publicity you need. You'll be 64 this June. You know everybody's gonna make a big deal out of that. Just sit back and wait for it.

So shape up and show a little more decorum. There's only two Beatles left and Ringo's always been too much of a good-time Charlie to stand for anything. Have a little intergrity and be content with the incredible wealth and planetary fame you have. Or I swear the next time somebody's praising Lennon at your expense I won't say a word. You'll be sorry then!

The Mighty Krugman on right-wing non-ethics

From Krugman's op-ed column:

First, if the latest pay-for-punditry story starts to get traction, the usual suspects will claim that liberal think tanks and opinion writers are also on the take. (I'm getting my raincoat ready for the slime attack on my own ethics I'm sure this column will provoke.) Reporters and editors will be tempted to give equal time to these accusations, however weak the evidence, in an effort to appear "balanced." They should resist the temptation. If this is overwhelmingly a story about Republican lobbyists and conservative think tanks, as I believe it is - there isn't any Democratic equivalent of Jack Abramoff - that's what the public deserves to be told.


And inquiring minds want to know: Who else is on the take? Or has the culture of corruption spread so far that the question is, Who isn't?

I have to wonder who will be exposed next. Please let it be Christopher Hitchens.

Saturday, December 17, 2005

Bush Says He Ordered Domestic Spying

It's my country and I'll spy if I want to.

Watch the whole 'one finger victory salute' video here.

From the NYTimes: President Bush acknowledged on Saturday that he had ordered the National Security Agency to conduct an electronic eavesdropping program in the United States without first obtaining warrants, and said he would continue the highly classified program because it was "a vital tool in our war against the terrorists."

In other news: Newly leaked Pentagon documents have confirmed the military has been monitoring and collecting intelligence on anti-war groups across the country. Peace protests are being described as threats and the military is collecting data on who is attending demonstrations.

Friday, December 16, 2005

The Nightcrawler

My daughter's in the NYTimes today in the transit strike story. Her coworkers are calling her "the Nightcrawler" because the clock indicates it's 12:45 AM on Thursday night Friday morning.

Slash Fiction

My Brokeback dream team

Amanda Pandagon has a good post about the repressed Smurfettes of the world who insist that women don't get turned on by looking at hot guys, especially hot guys together.

I couldn't reply to the post on Pandagon though, because there's something wrong with it and it won't display my posts, even though I was logged in and have already posted to that blog many times.

Now it's fixed...


It's universally acknowledged at this point that heterosexual men enjoy watching two beautiful women getting it on, so it shouldn't be at all odd that heterosexual women would be aroused by two hot men getting it on. The emphasis is on hot men here. Not just any two schlubs.

I make that point because it's been my experience as a playwright that if your play is given a male heterosexual director, and you've written a part that specifies a really good-looking man, you have to watch straight boy like a hawk. He will happily cast a very average looking man in the role. This is because in a Patriarchy the standards for feminine beauty are very high, but the standards for masculine beauty, in a culture controlled by straight men afraid of the teeniest homosexual urge, are low, if not outright reversed. That is, while it's impossible for a female actor to be too beautiful, it is possible for a male actor because he might give a straight guy a chubber.

So if you allow a straight man to cast a role meant for a beautiful man, he will cast any guy who is sufficiently non-deformed.

The belief that women have frigid eyes is the result of the confluence of my two favorite villians - the Patriarchy, which has traditionally repressed expressions of sexual desire in women, and evolutionary psychology, which claims that said repression is not actually represssion but the result of women's own evolutionarily-endowed sexual timidity. The Patriarchy and evolutionary psychology are a perfect team.

It's amazing that they can make such claims about female disinterest in appearance when there is so much evidence against it. There are magazines, aimed at teenage girls, all about the hotness of young men. The Beatles, for chrissakes, were totally hot. That's why they were a teen fad before they were acknowledged as musical geniuses. Young Elvis? Blue star hot. Young Harrison Ford? The same. Derek Jeter? Owwww!

I'm not that interested in the gay cowboy movie Brokeback Mountain, mainly because I don't think the two guys are hot. But if they could have cast Pete Duel and Ben Murphy of the cowboy-comedy series "Alias Smith and Jones" in that movie, I would have been all over it. I actually had a slash dream about them just last night. And hey, if anecdotal evidence is good enough for intrepid NYTimes girl reporter Maureen Down, it's good enough for the hoi polloi.

Slash fiction is usually written by women about two or more men having sex. But not any men, we're talking about Captain Kirk and Mr. Spock (probably the first slash fiction) or characters from Buffy the Vampire Slayer. Anywhere hot male actors are portraying fictional characters. Although I never really got the attraction for Kirk or Spock myself, but that James Marsters is molten as Spike on Buffy.

I'm not a huge consumer of slash fiction because I prefer to have a female character that I can live through vicariously getting it on with the guys - but there are many women who are very much into it.

UPDATE:I just discovered, via Lis of Riba Rambles that there
is Shakespeare slash!. As she says, How did I not discover this until now?

Slash is under the mainstream cultural radar of course, because the cultural decision-makers don't care about it. It's not exciting to straight men (and possibly even homo-threatening) and it's a literary phenomenon in a picture-based age.

Wolcott has a roundup of conservative expressions of homophobia over Brokeback Mountain.

There's a very interesting article about slash fiction in Bitch Magazine.

I wrote a short play about two friends collaborating on a piece of slash fiction together. The subtext is that they are using their story as a way to deal with disappointments in their real life romances. It's called THE SLASH (links to PDF document), and since it's about two female characters, will never be produced outside of a female plays festival because while male concerns are considered universal, female concerns are only of interest to chicks.

And this is the theatre world, which is notorious for having progressive politics.

Thursday, December 15, 2005

Warriors! Come out to play-ay!

That crazy, over-the-top 1979 gang flick "The Warriors" is now the cutting edge of cool, according to the Village Voice.

The article mentions that the author of the original 1965 novel was an old-school Marxist, and boy is he ever. I attempted to read the introduction to the novel. Mind you, I'm always interested in a socio-economic theory but that man could fell a caffomaniac on 10 espressos. In any case, the movie retains almost none of the author's views about society and poverty: it's a vision of NYC's future when gangs roam Manhattan. Like The Hi-Hats - a gang of mimes from Soho.

I know I slammed Wikipedia a few days ago, but this article on the Warriors is pretty good, and has a list of all the other gangs and uniform concepts, including the Gramercy Riffs, the Saracens, and the Satan's Mothers.

I knew there was a Warriors revival underway when some guy who works with my bf dressed up like a Baseball Fury for Halloween this year. And now my bf is addicted to the new video game.

The basic plot of the movie: the Warriors are falsely accused of killing a gangland visionary named Cyrus and they have to get home to Coney Island from the Bronx, while avoiding the vengence of other New York gangs. Yet one more Coney Island curiousity, along with the freak shows, hotdog eating contest and the Cyclone a national landmark deathtrap made out of toothpicks.

Can - you - dig it?

Wednesday, December 14, 2005

Earliest Known Maya Painting Found

The find, a 30-by-3-foot mural in vivid colors depicting the ancient culture's mythology of creation and kingship, is the centerpiece of a larger mural, parts of which were first discovered and exposed in Guatemala four years ago. New radiocarbon tests revealed the painting to be 200 years older than originally estimated, dating to about 100 B.C.

"In Western terms," said William Saturno, an archaeologist at the University of New Hampshire who is a research associate at Harvard, "it's like knowing only modern art and then stumbling on a Michelangelo or a Leonardo."

More at the NYTimes

Tuesday, December 13, 2005

Twisty Faster sez...

Fuck culture

I have some fairly deep disagreements with Twisty - she claims to be unsure whether men are capable of love, which doesn't seem to hinder her admiration for Ralph Waldo Emerson - but she is a stone cold incomparable genius of the rant, and in my opinion the reigning monarch of the medium. Plus, I totally agree on this one. Culture is NOT sacred.

Culture. Culture culture culture. I am sick and tired of culture. I am sick and tired of the retards who are trying to preserve culture because they think it’s sacred or something and they worship it. Culture’s not sacred. It’s guk growing in a petrie dish. A set of behaviors upon the successful assimilation of which a given individual is ruthlessly judged by her prejudiced and parochial peers.

Why would anybody want to get involved with that? Keep your culture offa me, freak!
Check out this dipshit assistant minister of culture and heritage from Fiji, who has been bitten by the popular culture-worship bug, and who recently announced to her constituents that "human, women’s, children’s, and individual rights are eroding the indigenous national identity." She wants women to "accept only what is in accordance with traditional culture and values, with particular stress on hairstyles and dress codes."

Plus, she blames the Patriarchy, which deserves every ounce of blame.

Sunday, December 11, 2005

Those crazy Chick tracts

Chick publications are so insane they are hard to parody, but here is a good one.
Thanks to Majikthese for mentioning the site on hers.

Also check out the parable Kissing Hank's Ass.

News Flash: the theatre world is sexist

The NYTimes has an article today about the small percentage of female directors on Broadway.
As a playwright first (although I did direct for the first time this year) I was most interested in this comment by Robyn Goodman:

Perhaps we should be asking why female playwrights are still marginalized and why their plays are considered to be gender specific while men's plays are considered to be universal. Or maybe we should ask why, when women are the predominant ticket buyers, there is only one female first-string critic in New York.
I used to sign my entire name to my plays but have taken to using my initials because I'm convinced that many readers of play selection committees believe that a female, writing about female characters, is writing a "chick" play (not as snappy as a "chick flick" but anyway...) which is not of universal interest.
Another problem in the theatre (and movies, animation, radio, television) is that although there are more female actors than male, more roles, and better roles are written for males.

Living in a Patriarchy is a very bad deal for the majority of human beings. So much so that the majority isn't even recognized as the majority, at 51% of the population, and female concerns are considered a special interest.

This must stop.

Friday, December 09, 2005

I love Jon Stewart

Watch him talk back to professional nutjob Bill O'Reilly here. (scroll down)

Watch the entire thing to get to the best line at the very end:

"If Bill O'Reilly needs to have an enemy, needs to feel persecuted, you know what, here's my Kwaanza gift to him: I'm your enemy, make me your enemy, I Jon Stewart, hate Christmas, Christians, Jews, morality. And I will not rest until every year families gather to spend December 25th together at Osama's Homo-bortion Pot and Commie Jizz-porium."

Thursday, December 08, 2005

I want to be Betty Dodson when I'm her age

I just read an article about Betty Dodson in this week's Time Out New York. It isn't available online though unless you pay, so I recommend everybody check out the Salon article about Betty Dodson from four years ago.


"Harold and Maude," Ruth Gordon plays a wacky 79-year-old who teaches a depressed man of 20 or so, played by Bud Cort, to value life. In the process he falls in love with her.

Betty Dodson, 72, and Eric Wilkinson, 25, are not Harold and Maude, but their age difference invites comparisons. When they became an item three years ago, friends teased them about the movie -- which appeared several years before Wilkinson was born.

"I never even heard of it till I got involved with Betty," Wilkinson explains. "But there's no comparison. Harold and Maude were just friends. We're lovers. We've spent entire days in bed together."

I hope Wilkinson has gone back and re-watched Harold and Maude since then because he doesn't know what he's talking about - Harold and Maude are definitely lovers, that's what the post-fireworks morning in bed with Harold blowing bubbles scene is supposed to be about. Then he asks her to marry him. That doesn't sound like just friends to me.

Of course Betty Dodson is such a sex-minded person it doesn't seem odd that she's getting it on with a 20-something guy now.

I think an important aspect of her sexuality is that she's always identified as queer and that helped her to break out of the standard heterosexual couple mindset that the Patriarchy promotes. Plus she's always been dedicated to sex as a lifestyle, not just as a fun thing. She says in the TONY article:

(In the 1960s) I threw some of the best sex parties in New York! After an hour or two the guys would peter out, literally, and the women would gather with their vibrators and go another two hours.

I have nothing against women going another two hours with a vibrator. But frankly, even if I was open enough to masturbate with a vibrator in front of other people, I would be just damn bored by the end of hour one, at least. And I think I'm too much of a snob to go to an orgy. If I think somebody (a male somebody, I just can't break away from androphilia) is a bore or kind of stupid or a Republican (but I repeat myself) I just can't get it on with him. And I don't think they're that choosy at orgies since being comfortable getting naked in front of a bunch of people probably cuts down the potential orgiasts too much to construct any "No Republican" barriers.

So Betty Dodson is a sex-minded person and good for her - it's a hell of a great way to make a living. She has an instructional DVD out now on masturbation, and I think it's probably a good idea, but if there's one thing this non-orgiast knows about, it's going solo.

Her web site is

Wednesday, December 07, 2005

Beware Wikipedia

Wikipedia, the the free encyclopedia that anyone can edit has been coming up in the world. I've noticed lots of citing of Wiki lately, and this is not a good thing.

I assume that the citers just don't realize that Wiki is the world's graffitti book. Until recently anybody could add an entry to Wiki, and right up to the present, anybody can edit. The theory is that errors will eventually be corrected, but the key word is eventually. Articles are not checked before being entered into Wikipedia, so there is no reason to trust anything in a Wiki article.

I recently edited the Wiki article on Huckleberry Finn because it claimed that the Duke and the King were trying to swindle four orphan girls, when in fact it was 3 orphan girls. This is a minor plot point, but if you've read the book it's hard to get that wrong because the girls are described rather vividly:

It's a pretty long journey. But it'll be lovely; wisht I was a-going. Is Mary Jane the oldest? How old is the others?"

"Mary Jane's nineteen, Susan's fifteen, and Joanna's about fourteen -- that's the one that gives herself to good works and has a hare-lip."

Lately there's been a new development. Other organizations, such as and take articles from Wiki and present them as valid resource citation materials. They do mention Wiki, but if you don't know about Wikipedia, and don't check it out, you have no idea your source is not verified before it is placed online. What's worse, when you make corrections to the Wiki article, the corrections are not carried over to those other web sites. So they have all the problems of Wikipedia and none of the benefits.

Wiki is a convenient place to start researching a subject, but do not use it as a primary source - follow links from the Wiki article to verified, vetted sources.

UPDATE: the moron who is suing me for doing a production of my own play cited Wikipedia in a court document to bolster his argument that because he made one aborted attempt to direct my play, he therefore owns a copyright on all subsequent performances. He is both an artistic AND a legal idiot. So I updated the item he cited, the Wikipedia entry for "stage picture." The last line is my little howdy to the cretin.

Monday, December 05, 2005

Huck Finn

The New Yorker's take on Huck Finn's audience

The caption reads "At last, a cinematic version of Twain's tale that truly represents our generation's ethos."

I'm working on a stage adaptation of The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn. Like its prequel The Adventures of Tom Sawyer, Huckleberry Finn is considered a classic of American literature, and as such is rarely read outside the classroom. This is a damn shame, because it is not only hilarously funny and an exciting adventure, it's infused with Twain's religious skepticism, which is not limited to the classic line "all right then, I'll go to hell."

To get a handle on how the novel is considered a kid's story, consider some of the cinematic versions. In this 1992 Adventures of Huckleberry Finn Jim doesn't even show on the cover, it's Huck and Tom. Disney Studios also leave Jim out in favor of Frodo Baggins looking extremely young and impish on the cover. According to Sean Axmaker's editorial review, you have to go back to 1939 for Mickey Rooney's version for something halfway decent. But really, the fact that there has never been a version of Huckleberry Finn aimed at adults says alot about the pervasiveness of the belief that it's no more than a Boys' Life adventure story.

Part of the problem is that since it is so closely related to Tom Sawyer, which really is a children's book, Huckleberry Finn is considered one as well. It's somewhat understandable, since Tom Sawyer himself makes an appearance at the beginning and end of the book. But everything in between really cannot be grasped by kids. I speak from experience. I've read the book four times, the first when I was twelve. I read it as an action-adventure story, and although I appreciated the excitement of the family feud and the Royal Nonesuch swindle, I didn't get Twain's whole sarcastic bemusement of Antebellum mores.

When I read it a second time in my early twenties, I not only picked up on that, I was astonished at all the funny bits I hadn't gotten. I thought the cutlery-switching scene at the end of the book was a howl. And who couldn't love this bit?

Once there was a thick fog, and the rafts and things that went by was beating tin pans so the steamboats wouldn't run over them. A scow or a raft went by so close we could hear them talking and cussing and laughing -- heard them plain; but we couldn't see no sign of them; it made you feel crawly; it was like spirits carrying on that way in the air. Jim said he believed it was spirits; but I says:

"No; spirits wouldn't say, 'Dern the dern fog.'"

But by the time I read Huck Finn in my 30s, I didn't think the cutlery scene was funny anymore, and in fact, I thought the ending of the book was shockingly weak. This is something I'll have to deal with in my adaptation.

I didn't know much about Samuel Clemens until watching a few bio shows on TV in the past year or so, including the Ken Burns one. Predictably, the Burns version is a bit portentous, and this illustrates the other problem with Huckleberry Finn. All the talk of its sociological and literary significance leads the small percentage of people who don't believe it's only fit for children to conclude that it's a boring slog. As a result far fewer people than you might expect - I'm talking about the playwrights of my acquaintance, who you would assume to be better read than most - have actually read the book, considering it is both entertaining and enlightening.

One of the non-Burns bios, I can't remember who was responsible for it, while not as thorough as the Burns actually questions the provenance of the pen name Mark Twain. While every other source says that Clemens got the name from a steamboat navigation phrase that meant two fathoms, (and naturally the Ken Burns piece made a big psycho-literary point about two fathoms meaning "safe waters") this other bio suggests most sacriligiously that in fact Twain was inspired by saloon slang - mark twain meaning you had two drinks on your bar tab. I'd love to know where they came up with that. It sounds just profane enough to be true, and gives you a more realistic perspective on things.

A great perspective on Huckleberry Finn can be had by reading contemporary reviews of the book.

The University of Virginia has a very good web site devoted to Twain and Huckleberry Finn and includes a section on these early reviews, as well as advertisements and illustrations, even the obscene illustration incident.

Life Magazine, showing that the belief that Huck Funn is a children's story is not a new phenomenon, snarks:

A very refined and delicate piece of narration by Huck Finn, describin his venerable and dilapidated "pap" as afflicted with delirium tremens, rolling over and over, "kicking things eveyr which way," and "saying there are devils ahold of him." This chapter is especially suited to amuse the children on long, rainy afternoons.

But the booby prize for historical laughingstock goes to The Boston Evening Traveller, which, luckily for somebody, is not attributed:

It is little wonder that Mr. Samuel Clemens, otherwise Mark Twain, resorted to real or mock lawsuits, as may be, to restrain some real or imaginary selling of "The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn" as a means of advertising that extraordinarily senseless publication. Before the work is disposed of, Mr. Mark Twain will probably have to resort to law to compel some to sell it by any sort of bribery or corruption. It is doubtful if the edition could be disposed of to people of average intellect at anything short of the point of the bayonet. This publication rejoices in two frontispieces, of which the one is supposed to be a faithful portrait of Huckleberry Finn, and the other an engraving of the classic features of Mr. Mark Twain as seen in the bust made by Karl Gerhardt. The taste of this gratuitous presentation is as bad as is the book itself, which is an extreme statement. Mr. Clemens has contributed some humorous literature that is excellent and will hold its place, but his Huckleberry Finn appears to be singularly flat, stale and unprofitable. The book is sold by subscription.

If you haven't read "The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn" you have no excuse.
You can read the entire novel on one page here.

Sunday, December 04, 2005

The Catholic Church, anti-woman as usual.

Once again the Catholic Church shows that it prefers that women die to having control over their own bodies.

PAMPLONA, Colombia - In this tradition-bound Roman Catholic town one day in April, two young women did what many here consider unthinkable: pregnant and scared, they took a cheap ulcer medication known to induce abortions. When the drug left them bleeding, they were treated at a local emergency room - then promptly arrested.

The Catholic Church is an organization that does whatever it can to stamp out women's rights to self-determination. The Catholic Church cannot be reformed from within. If you have to believe in magic Jesus and hocus pocus there are plenty of liberal Protestant sects you can join.

There is no excuse for any self-respecting woman to support the Roman Catholic Church.

Saturday, December 03, 2005

The eventful afterlife of Pete Duel

Jones, Smith and Alias?
Ben Murphy on the left, Pete Duel on the right.
I've been thinking about Pete Duel lately because the Encore Western channel is rerunning his last TV series "Alias Smith and Jones."

The series debuted in 1971 and ran until 1973, around the same time that the "Mary Tyler Moore Show" and "All in the Family" were running. But while those shows are still talked about and honored, the culture at large has forgotten about "Alias Smith and Jones."

But watching it now, I think that it's a pretty good action/adventure/comedy series. It only ran for 50 episodes until it was cancelled, but I think it would have run much longer except that Pete Duel killed himself in December 1971.

The opening credits of the show explained the basic plot:

Narrator: Hannibal Heyes (Pete Duel) and Kid Curry (Ben Murphy), the two most successful outlaws in the history of the west. And in all the trains and banks they robbed, they never shot anyone. This made our two latter-day Robin Hoods very popular with everyone but the railroads and the banks.

Kid Curry: [Posse in hot pursuit] There's one thing we've got to get, Heyes.

Hannibal Heyes: What's that?"

Kid Curry: Out of this business!

Governor's Assistant: The Governor can't come flat out and give you amnesty now. First you've got to prove you deserve it.

Hannibal Heyes: So all we've got to do is stay out of trouble until the Governor figures we deserve amnesty?

Kid Curry: But in the meantime we'll still be wanted?

Governor's Assistant: Well that's true. Til then only you, me and the Governor will know about it. It'll be our secret.

Hannibal Heyes: Hah, that's a good deal?

Kid Curry: [Escaping from a posse] I sure wish the governor would let more people in on our secret.

* * * * * *

Just as Harrison Ford is the key ingredient in the first three Star Wars movies, Pete Duel is the key ingredient in AS&J. His costar Ben Murphy was an incredibly beautiful young man, but when they're together on screen, I find I can't take my eyes off Duel. Duel was also very good-looking, but he has some kind of charisma or intensity or je ne sais quoi that jumps right out of the TV. Photographs don't quite capture it.

Once Duel was gone they replaced him with Roger Davis, and in the Davis episodes you really notice just how good-looking Ben Murphy was with his golden hair, blue eyes and perfect profile, because Duel is no longer there to act as an attention magnet.

Although mainstream culture has forgotten about Duel and AS&J, their cults live on, as you can see here and here and here and here.

Both Ben Murphy and Roger Davis are still alive. Murphy still appears in television shows but reportedly Davis is retired from acting. Nobody has created a web site devoted to either of them, but there are at least three devoted to Pete Duel, who has been dead for almost 34 years: The Pete Duel Forum, The Pete Duel Memorial Site and The Pete Duel Site.

Of course successful people who "have everything" and yet kill themselves are a source of endless fascination. But just as "Alias Smith and Jones" needed Duel, I don't think anybody would remember Duel for his role as Gidget's brother-in-law (Sally Field appeared on AS&J), or his short-lived series "Love on a Rooftop" with Judy Carne (who also appeared on AS&J) in spite of the suicide.

No, the phenomenon is Pete Duel as Hannibal Heyes alias Joshua Smith, and this phenomenon lives on the Internet. No surprise there's even a web site called The Life and Times of Hannibal Heyes, A web site devoted entirely to this pretty good bad man, and it contains no images of Roger Davis as Heyes.

I was ten years old during Duel's reign as Hannibal Heyes . My father watched AS&J all the time. He really seemed to enjoy it, and in any case, my mother wouldn't let him watch "The Flip Wilson Show" or "All in the Family" because of "all the filth." My brothers Brian and Kevin, one and two and a half years younger than I, respectively, used to play "Alias Smith and Jones" with their pal Johnny Thompson. They used to take turns being Smith, Jones and Alias.

My feelings about the show were a little different. Watching it now, I only remember one scene from one episode of the original run. But I do remember taking a keen interest in Smith. A confirmed boy-hater at age ten, there was something about Joshua Smith that I found intriguing, and even then I had to acknowledge it for what it was - a clear betrayal of my lifelong creed that boys were gross.

It turns out I was not exceptional in this regard. Although I didn't buy teen magazines at the time, it seems that Tiger Beat and the like were all over that action. They ran almost as many Duel articles as David Cassidy articles.

There are three media milestones of my pubescence - hearing John Lennon singing the lead on "Twist and Shout," watching Masterpiece Theatre's "Tom Brown's School Days" and watching Pete Duel in "Alias Smith and Jones." But until I saw the reruns of AS&J on Encore, I had forgotten all about Pete Duel. I don't even think I remembered his name. He was just the first guy whose sexual allure registered with me in the extreme early stages of adolescence. I knew nothing about Duel personally until I Googled him last week.

By all accounts Pete Deuel (original spelling of his name) was a singular person. He appears to have been deeply concerned about the environment and campaigned for McCarthy in 1968. He was also a poet, animal lover, and kind and sincere friend. The key to his suicide seems to be depression and alcoholism. You can read more about it on the many web sites, and even hear him recite his poetry and narrate a documentary about the dangers of leaded gasoline.

So I'm glad he's being remembered in 2005, so long after he died - longer than his entire lifespan. I'm certainly glad I've gotten to appreciate Duel all over again, now that I'm fully sexually mature. The feelings aren't much different, actually, except that I no longer feel guilt at giving in to androphilia.

So here's to you, Pete Duel. May you continue to have a full and eventful afterlife on cable television and the Internet.

UPDATE: 10 years later - Pete Duel - how's that afterlife going?

Thursday, December 01, 2005

Echidne debunks Hirshman

Thanks be to Echidne for debunking the annoying
article by Linda Hirshman in American Prospect that is suprisingly well-admired in the feminist blogosphere.

My only disagreement with Echidne is that she seems to feel that in spite of the evaporation of the entire premise of the article, Hirshman still has something of value to say.

I say to hell with Hirshman. There's nothing in her article that hasn't been said better in the blogosphere or by Katha Pollitt.

And then there's the truly offensive bits, like where Hirshman suggests that elite women's noblesse oblige will lead us members of the hoi polloi to the feminist promised land. And where she claims that feminism is to blame for this non-existent revolution by not being dictatorial enough about women's choices.

The experts are wrong

Louis Menand always gots the goods

It is the somewhat gratifying lesson of Philip Tetlock’s new book, “Expert Political Judgment: How Good Is It? How Can We Know?” (Princeton; $35), that people who make prediction their business—people who appear as experts on television, get quoted in newspaper articles, advise governments and businesses, and participate in punditry roundtables—are no better than the rest of us. When they’re wrong, they’re rarely held accountable, and they rarely admit it, either. They insist that they were just off on timing, or blindsided by an improbable event, or almost right, or wrong for the right reasons. They have the same repertoire of self-justifications that everyone has, and are no more inclined than anyone else to revise their beliefs about the way the world works, or ought to work, just because they made a mistake. No one is paying you for your gratuitous opinions about other people, but the experts are being paid, and Tetlock claims that the better known and more frequently quoted they are, the less reliable their guesses about the future are likely to be. The accuracy of an expert’s predictions actually has an inverse relationship to his or her self-confidence, renown, and, beyond a certain point, depth of knowledge. People who follow current events by reading the papers and newsmagazines regularly can guess what is likely to happen about as accurately as the specialists whom the papers quote. Our system of expertise is completely inside out: it rewards bad judgments over good ones.