Wednesday, November 30, 2011

miffed at the New Yorker, Steven Pinker calls for backup from racist Razib Khan

Welcome right-wing racists of UNZ.

There was a failed attempt at Pinker:

Yes apparently it's SUCH a failure that you feel the need mention it but you can't address the points made. 
But UNZ readers aren't big fans of evidence, just like their hero Steven Pinker.

And be sure to check out everything else I've said about Pinker over the last 10 years.

Not to mention everything I've said about Razib Khan over the last 10 years.

Since the earliest days of this blog I've had my eye on Razib Khan, the bigwig at Gene Expression the web site devoted to the "science" of evolutionary psychology. The very first time I mentioned Khan was to point out that he is a blatant racist and a big admirer of Steven Pinker - and it was obvious to me even then that Pinker returned the admiration. Here's Khan talking about aptitude:
I believe different groups probably have different aptitudes (not moral inferiority or superiority)-and the axiom of equality-that all groups have the exact same tendencies as our common evolutionary heritage, could cause serious problems when applied to public policy.
Now what Khan means by "aptitude" is intelligence and what he has in mind is that infamous work of racialist science "The Bell Curve." Predictably, Khan is a huge fan of the Bell Curve and featured this interview with author Charles Murray.

Another time Khan clarified further on the "aptitude" issue:
right now, we assume that ALL GROUPS HAVE EQUAL APTITUDES. the result is that liberals devise new social programs to “uplift” groups to express their potentional. conservatives excoriate underclass social structures and cultures and encourage their own rival social engineering programs (vouchers, enterprise zones, privating public housing). if some aptitudes were genetic on average between groups, then we have an even harder task: identify the points in the genome that effect “g”-general intelligence, and figure out ways to manipulate these segments of the genome (gene therapy).

There is no question, Razib Khan believes that non-whites, especially Africans, have evolved to be less intelligent than whites. He is a full-on racist.

Here Khan lays out his theories of intelligence of various national/ethnic groups and the desirability of blondes.

The proudly racist American Renaissance likes to republish the work of Razib Khan.

But Khan is careful not to make his racism too blatant these days. Instead he lets you draw your own conclusions about Black Americans as in this Discover Magazine column he writes:
Here’s a case of inversion: in the early 20th century ideologues turned the roots of all civilizations into examples of Aryan/Nordic superiority. Today from what I can tell the mainstream sentiment is to not comment or inquire too deeply into the Afrocentrist fiction that St. Augustine, Hannibal or Cleopatra were black. A fiction which from what I can tell has spread widely within the African American community. How the pendulum has swung!
So how does he know that the fiction "has spread widely within the African American community"? He says it right there: "from what I can tell."

In other words, the Aryan/Nordic superiority myth, which was widely disseminated and believed and acted upon in the Holocaust, is equivalent to the myth-making of the African American community - from what Razib Khan can tell.

According to his online bio he is an "Unz Foundation Junior Fellow." The Unz Foundation was created by Ron Unz, publisher of The American Conservative.

Now it's not surprising that Pinker has a hissyfit over the New Yorker review of his most recent book "The Better Angels of Our Nature: Why Violence Has Declined." - Pinker is not accustomed to analysis by someone who is not baffled by his bullshit - and legions in the media are. Pinker is accustomed to being lionized and revered.

So who does Steven Pinker turn to for a reply to The New Yorker? Razib Khan:
But aren’t you just being defensive? Authors always think that negative reviews of their book are wrong. Has anyone else replied to Kolbert?

Razib Khan has a response in the Gene Expression blog on the Discover magazine Web site:

The funny thing is, both in the link above and here, Khan admits he hasn't even read the entire book, estimating he's read about 20% as late as November 28.

A racist who doesn't do his homework. That's who Steven Pinker cites in defense of his work against the New Yorker.

Steve Sailer, a buddy of Khan's and an even more blatant racist, is a huge fan of Pinker's book and gives the book a rave review in - where else - The American Conservative.

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

content is king

There is so much content on Youtube now, it's a wonder anybody watches TV at all, except for topical stuff like The Daily Show.

Just the Beatles stuff alone! Above is a documentary "The making of Sgt. Peppers" and here is "Making of the White Album."

The funny thing about this White album documentary is that it's almost all still photos... except for some footage from the Beatles big trip to India that I have never seen.

Apparently there's one of these from Apple for each Beatles album. Here's the making of Abbey Road.

Revolver! Unfortunately they don't discuss the cover which is the Greatest Album Cover of All Time.

And speaking of Revolver - this fun take of one of my favorite Beatle songs "And Your Bird Can Sing"

Monday, November 28, 2011

getting high with Native Americans

The NYCPlaywrights November Play of the Month theme was "native Americans" and we got a tiny percentage of submissions that we got for October (the supernatural) or December (winter holidays) - this is due to the specificity of the subject and the fact that the vast majority of plays submitted for the Play of the Month are 10-minute plays that the playwright happened to have lying around. There are far fewer plays about native Americans lying around in playwrights' hard drives.

And then there are the plays that were clearly not about the theme but were retro-fitted, like with an off-hand reference to native Americans, for the purpose of the theme.

The entire point of having a theme is to prevent playwrights from submitting the same plays month after month. And it would be nice if a playwright was inspired by the theme once in awhile to write a new play. That was the case of the winning play of the month for November, Nancy Brewka-Clark's HIGH ON EMMA SAFFORD.

I got a big kick out of the video recording - Abe Lebovic and Carolyn Paine are adorable in their roles - they've played a couple before, in my THE SLASH last February.

I didn't have tobacco or weed so I made them smoke the only thing I had handy that could be smoked - catnip. I've heard you can get high from catnip and while we didn't do all that many takes, I certainly felt something - although it might have been a panic attack. But my cat went nuts. Usually he's pretty shy around visitors but he was all over the actors while we were trying to video-record. Eventually I had to lock him in my bedroom so we could finish up. Oh Mr. Fuzz!

I don't know if the Play of the Month project is partly responsible or not, but the NYCPlaywrights hit rate has really gone up in the past year - we are about to get 5,000 unique visitors for the month of November. Just a few months ago I thought 3K visitors was impressive. Now if only everybody would start clicking the damn links I'd have a serious income source.

Sunday, November 27, 2011

A song for our time

Saturday, November 26, 2011

evolutionary psychology - the go-to theory for sexists

How many times have I said that evolutionary psychology is the go-to theory of human behavior for sexists?

(Anthropologist Marvin Harris would call it a "research strategy" rather than a "theory.")

Ed Rybicki demonstrates how it works:
Being a scientist, however, I have been trained to demand evidence, to either support or disprove a hypothesis.

And it appears that it exists… now, while the credibility of the journal has been doubted in a blog to which I really don’t feel like linking, it remains a fact that the Journal of Social, Evolutionary, and Cultural Psychology exists, that it appears to be a peer-reviewed academic journal, that it garners citations from other journals – and that it published an article entitled “Evolved foraging psychology underlies sex differences in shopping experiences and behaviors“, by Daniel Kruger of the School of Public Health, University of Michigan, and Dreyson Byker, of Literature, Science, and the Arts, University of Michigan. In Volume 3, Issue 4, of December 2009 – a special issue reporting “Proceedings of the Third Annual Meeting of the NorthEastern Evolutionary Psychology Society”.

He provides links to the articles he cites at his blog.

Now one of the beauty parts of evolutionary psychology is that you don't have to actually prove that any given modern behavior is evolved - all you have to do is identify the behavior and just assume that the very act of quantifying the behavior is proof that the behavior is evolved.

You can see that one reason why evolutionary psychology is so wildly popular with researchers is because it is so incredibly inexpensive and time-saving to do evolutionary psychology "studies."

The next step is to write a book about how men are from Mars, women are from Venus - although you will have to come up with an original title to hide the fact that you are serving warmed up pop-psychology from twenty years ago.

Rybicki's blog post "Sexually dimorphic behaviour in human shopping" is a defense against all the criticism he's received for his truly pathetic attempt at humor in Nature entitled Womanspace:
At this point I must digress, and mention, for those who are not aware, the profound differences in strategy between Men Going Shopping and Women Going Shopping. In any general shopping situation, men hunt: that is, they go into a complex environment with a few clear objectives, achieve those, and leave. Women, on the other hand, gather: such that any mission to buy just bread and milk could turn into an extended foraging expedition that also snares a to-die-for pair of discounted shoes; a useful new mop; three sorts of new cook-in sauces; and possibly a selection of frozen fish.

Now many people responded to those who said this is sexist with the standard oh-lighten-up-he's-just-kidding response. Because you know, this is a ridiculous stereotype and nobody would believe it.

But as I believe I've demonstrated on this blog many times, there is no stereotype so ridiculous that some promoter of evolutionary psychology won't claim it's actually an innate, evolved behavior.

Rybicki comments right after the Womanspace article:
I wrote this tongue-in-cheek, but I swear I've witnessed my daughter entering Womanspace recently: she's 16, and has started doing all the same things in supermarkets I've become used to my wife doing.

Like vanishing completely, and reappearing up to half an hour later in a random aisle, and getting all impatient when I plaintively ask where's she's been.

Ah, me....

This pretty much gave the game away as far as I was concerned - it was clear he actually believes in all that just-so evolutionary psychology bullshit.

It didn't take me long to find his blog and get the evidence. Which I shared with a whole bunch of bloggers who had initially criticized Rybicki's piece. I thought they might find it interesting that contrary to what many - including Rybicki - have said in defense of the Womanspace article, what Rybicki really believes about the antiquated gender caricature he presented is that it's funny cause it's true.

mostly trees and bridges

Had a nice walk through Astoria Park the other day and got some fabulous images of trees and bridges.

This is the Tri-borough up front and the Hell Gate bridge in the background.

Under the Hell Gate bridge

Also under the Hell Gate bridge

This one is more about the interplay of trees and bridges and that blue blue sky

One of the pillars of the Hell Gate Bridge

Just the Tri-borough

Every now and then a dog would come walking by. Their people were around, but pretty far ahead or behind the dog, so at first it looked like the dog was having a constitutional on his own.

Here is a close-up.

Here comes another one...


Friday, November 25, 2011

Keen Company blog

Carl Forsman, the artistic director of the Keen Company has a blog here. It's quite interesting especially for anybody involved in writing, producing etc. He puts it all out there. One of my favorite things he's written recently was a complaint about actors' audition material choices:
FIVE PEOPLE auditioned for my Tina Howe comedy with monologues from Neil LaBute plays – he is my least favorite writer and is basically the artistic opposite of Keen Company’s work.
I posted a comment requesting that he discuss this in greater detail.

I can't say I'm surprised he wrote that though. I became interested in his group when I read an article about the Keen Company in the NYTimes, and got to this part:
...Mr. Forsman even described his worldview as humanistic, saying he believes “compassion and generosity are a normal, natural part of existence.”

Mr. Forsman’s attitude is what makes Keen Company, the Off Broadway theater he founded in 2000, one of the most defiant troupes in the city. Though cynicism, dysfunction and sarcasm are often de rigueur in Manhattan culture, he aggressively promotes an alternative. “Keen Company produces sincere plays,” reads the theater’s Web site, “We believe that theater is at its most powerful when texts and productions are generous in spirit and provoke identification.” The company, the site says, is “unafraid of emotional candor, vulnerability and optimism.”
Wow, that was music to my ears. I was right in the middle of my JANE EYRE production when I read this, and JANE is as sincere as it gets. And then I came to this part, which made me a true believer:
And for him beauty is more than just pleasantry. “I’ve thought for a while now that maybe true theatrical rebellion isn’t saying, ‘And then a guy raped a 4-year-old and shot his mom,’” he said. “That’s not radical anymore because we’re so desensitized. Now I think true rebellion is saying anything optimistic or positive about humanity. Hope is radical.”
And then the cherry on top:
He continued: “There’s no question that the cynical viewpoint is viewed as more sophisticated. There’s a real fear, especially among the intelligentsia, of generosity and compassion because they look like the acts of someone who’s naïve.”
That's it - he completely nailed it.

Keen Company doesn't seem to do world premieres so I don't hold out much hope of them doing JULIA & BUDDY - unless it does well for itself for a couple of years - but I think that play - and really most of my work - is very much in the Keen Company spirit.

I sure hope he takes up my suggestion and gets into the whole LaBute v. Keen issue in detail.

Thursday, November 24, 2011

traditional Thanksgiving

It's Thanksgiving and that means dinner at Capsouto Freres in TriBeCa.

Fine dining without pretension at Capsouto Freres:
As the name indicates, the restaurant was founded by three brothers named Capsouto. They came to New York from Alexandria, Egypt, by way of Paris, and brought their French culinary traditions and Old World grace with them. Two remain, Jacques and Samuel. Albert passed away in January at the age of 53. They hunkered down on the corner of Watts and Washington years before Montrachet and other pioneering restaurateurs ventured below Canal. They've remained there by doing pretty much what they've done since 1980. "Nothing's changed much since then," said the Maitre D', "which both works for us and against us."

In the grand, high-ceilinged dining room, hung with many chandeliers and ceiling fans, the scene is the very picture of customer loyalty. Most of the diners have been here many times before. It's a place for long-standing married couples, who dine comfortably over wine and soft conversation; or pairs of marrieds, who use it to renew old bonds and catch up. If a teen comes here, it's because a parent brings them, thinking they're doing the kid a favor. (They are.) The elegant, two-tiered room and tall windows make a very nice backdrop for dinner with the folks. One imagines graduations and engagements are commemorated here. It has that right air of occasion.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

New Yorker parity report - November 28, 2011

Just as I predicted, the parity score is down this week, from the unusual closing-in-on-parity score of 37.39% - this week it's back to 28.57%.

The New Yorker Parity Report
A regular report on the gender parity - or lack thereof - of the current issue of The New Yorker based on table of contents by-lines
Includes fiction, non-fiction, poems. Does not include illustrations.

A score of 50% means that half of all writers in the issue are female.
A score of greater than 50% would mean more female than male writers. This never happens.

Parity change from previous week: -9.35%

November 28, 2011

Total writers - 21
male - 15
female - 6
gender parity score: 28.57%

Last week's score
Total writers - 29
male - 18
female - 11
gender parity score: 37.39%

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Monday, November 21, 2011

Poet-bashing police

Excellent but distressing NYTimes article by Robert Haas:
Another of the contingencies that came to my mind was a moment 30 years ago when Ronald Reagan’s administration made it a priority to see to it that people like themselves, the talented, hardworking people who ran the country, got to keep the money they earned. Roosevelt’s New Deal had to be undealt once and for all. A few years earlier, California voters had passed an amendment freezing the property taxes that finance public education and installing a rule that required a two-thirds majority in both houses of the Legislature to raise tax revenues. My father-in-law said to me at the time, “It’s going to take them 50 years to really see the damage they’ve done.” But it took far fewer than 50 years.

My wife bounced nimbly to her feet. I tripped and almost fell over her trying to help her up, and at that moment the deputies in the cordon surged forward and, using their clubs as battering rams, began to hammer at the bodies of the line of students. It was stunning to see. They swung hard into their chests and bellies. Particularly shocking to me — it must be a generational reaction — was that they assaulted both the young men and the young women with the same indiscriminate force. If the students turned away, they pounded their ribs. If they turned further away to escape, they hit them on their spines.
More on Robert Haas

And here is the pepper-spray cop in action:

Sunday, November 20, 2011

mobs in pre-Internet days

They didn't have the convenience of Google bombing back then.

I took down a bunch of posts that were on this blog relating to my own run-in with a Google-bombing smear campaign because I am incorporating them into an article I'm working on for a media outlet. Stay tuned.

Saturday, November 19, 2011

Internet mob misrule

Interesting article: Has the Internet Just Become One Giant Lynch Mob?

The author of that 2009 post remarks:
At least back in the day, members of lynch mobs had to get off their fat asses and actually meet the person face to face (or sometimes face to mask) in order to terrorize them. Now all they need is some limited computer abilities and a social network to conduct their dirty work.
It is truly sick. And Tumblr must be held accountable - what these Tumblr people are doing is writing anonymously about what people on Facebook have said - and Facebook makes users provide their real names. The named vs. anonymous balance of power is obvious, and there is an obvious potential for abuse, although no doubt nothing will be done until somebody is killed thanks to lies promoted through an anonymous Tumblr mob.

People have already been threatened and attacked thanks to Internet mobs: From flash mob to lynch mob
The most concerning aspect of mobbing, though, is the way large groups of people can be mobilized to attack a perceived transgressor without their accusers providing any real evidence of their guilt. On the Internet, the mob can be judge and jury.

Although some people are making money through advice on dealing with online smear campaigns.

Internet Defamation Law Blog

Is 80% of Internet porn misogynistic?

I got into a huge Facebook comments fight with Amanda Marcotte Wednesday night over her assertions in her Slate review of "Dirty! Dirty! Dirty!: Of Playboys, Pigs, and Penthouse Paupers—An American Tale of Sex and Wonder":
When these four men founded their magazines, pornography wasn’t a multibillion-dollar enterprise with corporate funding. It was a social stigmatized, semi-criminal industry, and it’s probably no accident that the men who entered it were broken people with serious sexual and emotional baggage.

It’s unfortunate that these men’s attitudes intertwined with their work until sexism became a standard feature of porn, one that outlived the feminist revolution. Just as file folder icons on computers will be around long after real life file folders disappear from offices, the demeaning portrayal of women these men brought to porn will outlive all of them. It’s not necessary to the experience, but without it, the user would now feel that something is off...

It’s interesting to consider what a porn industry started by an entirely different set of men, a set of men who loved women, might have looked like. Would different abbreviations now populate porn sites instead of such current favorites as DP (double penetration) and ATM (ass-to-mouth)? Would what we consider “alternative” porn now simply be the mainstream?

She provides no evidence that Flint, Guccione, Hefner and Goldstein made today's Internet porn anti-woman. Her argument is that those men were misogynists and they made porn, and since "mainstream" porn is also misogynist, it's due to the pornographers of yesteryear.

But there's an even bigger problem here - I have seen no evidence that most Internet porn is misogynistic.

This isn't the first time I've run into claims by some feminists that Internet porn is mostly sexist. Their argument seems to be that if some misogynist porn exists online, we can extrapolate from this that most online porn is misogynist.

There is lots of Internet porn - so much so that I bet that the amount of Internet porn online in a single day is more than all the porn produced in the history of the pre-Internet world - including the vase paintings of the ancient Greeks. Until you've seen a red-figure three-way, you just haven't seen porn.

So to actually do a thorough study of Internet porn would be extremely time-consuming.

But a less time consuming method is simply to do a search/spot check. I did a Google search on "porn." The top 2 hits were the sites pornhub and youporn. So I went to pornhub.

There sure was lots of free porn there - but does anybody on Earth pay for porn anymore? There is so much available for free. You don't even have to click on a video at pornhub - the video ad on the right-hand side of the screen shows explicit sex acts.

Anyway, a quick review of the six videos in the "being watched" category, which also include the user-voted positive ratings percentage.

Video #1 "Wake Up Sex Homemade Video" is just that - a man holding a camera - we see very little of him - enters a bedroom, the woman wakes up and smiles at him, masturbates and then they have vigorous vaginal, anal and oral sex (fellatio only.) It got a 93% positive rating.

Video #2 "Mature MILF steals daughter's boyfriend" is a preview of a full video on naughty america dot com. This one has dialog and an actual storyline and incredibly bad acting - which is the standard for porn. One of the most fun aspects of the movie Boogie Nights was watching good actors suddenly turning into bad actors for the porn film sequences. But back to the video - there is oral sex (fellatio and cunniligus) and vaginal sex. There might be other activities in the full video. In any case the preview got a 90% positive rating. The guy in this is pretty cute but once the sex begins you can't see his face at all, the entire focus is on the "MILF".

Video #3 "Sexy Massage" is girl-on-girl that starts with massage and a rudimentary storyline and then gets into masturbation, crotch grinding and cunnilingus. It got a 95% rating.

Video #4 "Black Compilaction" I assume this is a typo and should be "compilation" - the video shows different black people having vaginal sex and fellatio. Also quite a bit of female exhibitionism. This got a 93% rating. Some dialog but not much story.

Video #5 "Aleska Diamond & Lexington Steel" is named after the two porn stars who appear. This has a story - the woman - played by Aleska, has a Scandinavian-sounding accent. She appears to be living with a sort of hickish white guy. They have a brief conversation and then she goes over to their neighbor's house - played by the Lexington Steel and they have vaginal, anal and oral sex. According to Lexington's Wiki page: "an American award-winning pornographic actor, director and owner of Mercenary Motion Pictures and Black Viking Pictures Inc. He is the first actor to have won the AVN Male Performer of the Year Award three times" and I am not surprised - he is cute - and I usually don't like bald - and a much better actor by far than most. Which, admittedly is a low bar. I don't know why it only got a 91% positive rating. I was disappointed that the white guy didn't show up at the end and confront them, for some dramatic interest, but then interpersonal situational drama isn't what porn is all about.

Video #6 "3 on 1" shows three women taking turns fellating a penis and testicles. We never get to see anything more of the genitalia's owner than a hairy belly. The women are polite about taking turns, so no drama, and the dialog and storyline are minimal. This one was unusual for the close-up POV - since the camera didn't bother showing anything but the penis, the focus was on the three women's faces. So this was the most interesting, cinematically. This got a 93% rating.

And that's the survey of what was being watched when I visited pornhub. None of this strikes me as misogynistic - male-oriented yes, but that in itself isn't evidence of misogyny. Mostly though it was unimaginative and made sex kind of boring since the personal/emotional connection was slighted in favor of the standard mechanics of sex. And this might just be me, but except for ole Lexington Steel the people in these videos seem pretty stupid. I guess stupidity, even more than baldness is a huge turn-off for me.

But the fact that most porn is crap should surprise noone - why should porn alone be exempt from Sturgeon's Law? ("90% of everything is crap")

Friday, November 18, 2011

soap opera hair

I do so enjoy making hair care professionals happy. I walked into the salon with the hair of evil Thursday evening and after the good gentleman hairdresser finished beating the devil out of it he surveyed his work and with great self-satisfaction declared it "soap opera hair."

But it will be back to evil tomorrow...

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Free Will again

Yet another NYTimes article about Free Will.

There are 15 pages of comments for this article and I'm just too damn lazy to go through them all and see if anybody else saw a huge problem with this assertion by Eddy Namias:
Our brains are the most complexly organized things in the known universe, just the sort of thing that could eventually make sense of why each of us is unique, why we are conscious creatures and why humans have abilities to comprehend, converse, and create that go well beyond the precursors of these abilities in other animals. Neuroscientific discoveries over the next century will uncover how consciousness and thinking work the way they do because our complex brains work the way they do.
Our brains are the most complexly organized things in the known universe? According to whom - our brains? I mean he didn't even say "organic" or "living" - just "things." Since a thing can be defined as anything - a black hole, the Internet, human culture (which could include brains as a sub-set); the ecosystem - which could also include brains as a sub-set), it seems very easy to dispute

Apparently this claim is a very popular one, enough to be disputed on Snopes. I'd never heard this claim before, nor had I ever heard of The Singularity before. That is:
Many of the most recognized writers on the singularity, such as Vernor Vinge and Ray Kurzweil, define the concept in terms of the technological creation of superintelligence, and argue that it is difficult or impossible for present-day humans to predict what a post-singularity world would be like, due to the difficulty of imagining the intentions and capabilities of superintelligent entities.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

New Yorker Parity Report - November 21, 2011

Well the New Yorker is getting into the almost-parity range this week! Of course it is the Food Issue - of the 12 food-related pieces, 7, are by women. This is going to skew the parity average somewhat - but I have every confidence that the rate will be down next week.

The New Yorker Parity Report
A regular report on the gender parity - or lack thereof - of the current issue of The New Yorker based on table of contents by-lines
Includes fiction, non-fiction, poems. Does not include illustrations.

A score of 50% means that half of all writers in the issue are female.
A score of greater than 50% would mean more female than male writers. This never happens.

Parity change from previous week: +8.82%

November 21, 2011

Total writers - 29
male - 18
female - 11
gender parity score: 37.39%

Last week's score
Total writers - 21
male - 15
female - 6
gender parity score: 28.57%

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

The Empire Strikes Back

Police Clear Zuccotti Park of Protesters
Hundreds of New York City police officers cleared Zuccotti Park of the Occupy Wall Street protesters early Tuesday, arresting dozens of people there after warning them that the nearly two-month-old camp would be “cleared and restored” before the morning and that any demonstrator who did not leave would be arrested.

The protesters, about 200 of whom have been staying in the park overnight, initially resisted with chants of “Whose park? Our park!” as officers began moving in and tearing down tents. The protesters rallied around an area known as the kitchen, near the middle of the park and began building barricades with tables and pieces of scrap wood.

more famous friends

Carolyn Paine, who was in my MISTRESS ILSA, can be seen as a soccer mom online here:

And promises she'll be showing up on TV in February.

And another MI cast member, Renee Cole, is all over the place doing her full-time gig as a Lady Gaga impersonator and will be seen on Bravo next season. Read all about her in this article A day in the life with Brooklyn's Lady Gaga.

Monday, November 14, 2011

go Randy Rainbow

Well Randy Rainbow sure has come up in the world since he performed in the May 2005 NYCPlaywrights Fundraiser. I have a video clip of that somewhere. He performed in the play of uber cutie Brett Holland. And now he's drunk-dialing Rick Perry! (Does anybody dial anymore?)

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Six Questions for Arthur Schopenhauer

I find this article Six Questions for Arthur Schopenhauer quite entertaining, although I think the impersonation of Schopenhauer by author Scott Horton doesn't quite have the angst of my Schopenhauer...
3. During your life you said a lot of very unkind things about the Jews. Some say that you were one of the enablers who made rank anti-semitism respectable, paving the way for the holocaust. Considering what happened, do you regret having made some of those harsh statements?

Of course. My negative comments on Judaism were directed towards a religious-philosophical system which—from my perspective—was excessively materialistic. But I made some very unfortunate statements, which reflect the fact that I am by nature something of a misanthrope. Still, perhaps you have lost sight of the fact that there is one nation of which I am, and always was, far more critical: the Germans. They fill themselves with self-importance, with notions of exceptionalism. They sputter polysyllables that they rarely in fact understand; indeed they need all those syllables just to give themselves time to think, because their brains work so slowly. Their nationalism is the worst of all European nationalisms. My father said, back when the Prussians marched into Danzig, that this German nationalism will be the ruin of all of us. He was right, of course. In the meantime, though, the Germans have been tamed. They’re good Europeans.

It finally occurred to me in the most recent revision of JULIA & BUDDY to address what some perceive as Schopenhauer's anti-Semitism. I have Julia respond to that perception by making the same point as this article makes.

But in response to charges of misogyny against Schopenhauer Julia says: "If you ruled out every great man in history on the basis of misogyny, you wouldn’t have any left." I think this is a funny tossed-off line, although it has yet failed to get a laugh in any reading. And actually it's a bit unfair to good old John Stuart Mill, a contemporary of Schopenhauer. Unlike Schopenhauer, Mill was by all accounts a genial and egalitarian soul, who did some important work in the development of the scientific method and who wrote The Subjection of Women. It is an important early feminist essay and about a hundred years before its time, or as the Wiki article states: "At the time it was published in 1869, this essay was an affront to European conventional norms of views on the status of men and women." The essay The Subjection of Women can be read here.

And he also practiced what he preached - after 21 years of friendship with Harriet Taylor they married when she became a widow and continued their intellectual collaboration until Taylor's death. If there's any "great man" in history who should be revered, it's John Stuart Mill.

I actually did put in a plug for Mill in several versions of the script, but eventually realized I had to leave it out, it was breaking up the flow of the dialog. Oh well... maybe I'll do a play about Mill one of these days.

But back to prickly old Arthur S - as with the anti-Semitic remarks, Schopenhauer's misogynistic remarks were tempered by more positive things he said later about women.

I think Schopenhauer is one of the greatest philosophers, due to his insights about the Will, and the importance of art, but it's hard to warm up to him because of his prickly, cranky nature. But it's just those attributes that make him so much fun to portray on stage.

Very few people have any idea who Schopenhauer is, but those who do know might well believe he was a rampaging anti-Semite. The discussion above clarifies things a bit - really Schopenhauer's biggest beef was with the "materialistic" monotheistic religions of which Judaism was just one. Although certainly Schopenhauer showed signs of low-level standard anti-Semitism that was I'm sure pretty typical of his time.

But this article doesn't even mention Hegel. He does make some unflattering remarks about his contemporaries: ...and then we have that scoundrel Fichte who made a very bad pass at the same thing, together with Schleiermacher, who got off to a decent start but went sour. But making Schopenhauer rant against Hegel was the best fun in that section of my play.

And my absolute most favorite part of this article is in the intro:
The transcription was complicated a couple of times due to the vexatious barking of his poodle, “Butz.”
In the Schopenhauer section of my play, I have it end when we hear the barking of Schopenhauer's poodle "Atma" and he has to take him out for his walk. I put that into the play long before I read this article so it's funny that both Horton and I had the same thought about mentioning the poodle. I knew Schopenhauer also had a poodle named "Butz" - but although Butz is a funnier-sounding name than Atma, it's a bit too much, especially in English, to use in the context of the play. And Butz, I suspect, doesn't have a Brahminic meaning as Atma does.

I find it so poignant that isolated lonely old Schopenhauer refers to his pet as "World Soul." Here is a portrait of Schopenhauer from the book Life of Arthur Schopenhauer:
About four o'clock Schopenhauer, still in dress-coat (of an unchanging fashion) and white neckcloth, started for a " constitutional." By the help of description we can picture the stout, broad-shouldered, and rather undersized old gentleman, with beardless chin (in later life, he had come to think beards indecent), over-full mouth, ample and furrowed brow, bright blue eyes, deep-set and widely parted by a broad nose tending to aquiline, and with the suspicious look of the partially deaf. In these strolls his regular companion was a poodle, one of a succession (varying in their colour) which had shared his room and board since student-days at Gottingen. About the year 1840 and later it was a white one, and went, as special favourite, by the name Atma (the world-soul of the Brahmins); from 1850 to his death, a brown poodle, called Butz. Of this dog he was very fond, noting its looks and movements with philosophic eye, and so attentive to its wants, that if, for example, a regimental band passed the house, he would get up in the midst of an earnest conversation, in order to put the seat by the window in a convenient position for his little friend to gaze out. The children of the neighbourhood soon came to know the poodle, and when they came home from their play on the Main-Quai they would, among their other experiences, recount to their parents how they had seen "young Schopenhauer" sitting at his window.

I learned something valuable from this article - I had Julia address Schopenhauer as "Herr" but clearly the proper way to address him is "Professor Doktor Schopenhauer."

Saturday, November 12, 2011

More Autumnal Lunch Hour Perambulations

Ooh a Japanese Threadleaf Maple!

Another Japanese Threadleaf Maple, behind a fence

Look how nice and flowery

I thought this looked rather Italian

And this looks rather Roman

Friday, November 11, 2011

but I keep reading the New Yorker anyway...

The reason I have not yet become disgusted about the tenacious parity problem at the New Yorker enough to unsubscribe is the generally high quality of its non-fiction, for example this profile of Planned Parenthood by Jill Lepore. I almost missed my subway stop on this morning's commute I was so absorbed by it.

Unfortunately it's behind a pay wall so non-subscribers are out of luck unless they quick get the current issue on newsstands. But here are some fascinating items from the article:
On the day the (first birth control) clinic opened, Jewish and Italian women pushing prams and with toddlers in tow lined up down the street, Sanger recalled, "some shawled, some hatless, their red hands clasping the cold, chapped, smaller ones of their childrn." They paid ten cents to register. THen Sanger or Byrne met with seven or eight at once to show them how to use pessaries.

Nine days later, an undercover policewoman came, posing as a mother of two who couldn't afford any more children. Mindell sold her a copy of "What Every Girl Should Know." Byrne discussed contraception with her. The next day, the police arrived, arrested Sanger, confiscated an examination table, and shut down the clinic.
The first right-wing sting against Planned Parenthood. That evil freak Lila Rose would have been there, cheering on the cops.
A survey conducted of nearly a thousand members of the American Birth Control League in 1927 found its membership to be more Republican than the rest of the country. In a successful bid for respectability as a reform akin to prohibition, the league had attracted to its membership the same women and men who joined organizations like the Red Cross, the Rotary Club, and the Anti-Saloon League. The next year, Sanger was forced to resign as the league's president; its members objected to her feminism.

And I see a play title in this next bit:
In 1936, a federal appellate court heard U.S. v. One Package of Japanese Pessaries - a test case engineered by Sanger - and removed contraception from the category of obscenity.
And of course what article is complete without a typical idiotic statement from New York Times columnist David Brooks?
Unless Roe v. Wade is overturned, politics will never get better... Justice Harry Blackmun did more inadvertent damage to our democracy than any other 20th-century American. When he and his Supreme Court colleagues issued the Roe v. Wade decision, they set off a cycle of political viciousness and counter-viciousness that has poisoned public life ever since."
And what Mr. McBobo-ism is complete without an immediate rebuttal from people who actually know what they're talking about? Immediately after that quote in the article:
But Linda Greenhouse and Reva Siegel, both of whom teach at Yale Law School, have argued that this conventional narrative gets history backward. In an article published in the Yale Law Journal in June, they suggest that what happened after Roe was a consequence not of the Court's ruling, but of G.O.P. strategists' attempt to redefine the Party - before Roes. In their account, if there's a villain it's not Harry Blackmun; it's Richard Nixon.

And then there's this counter-intuitive fact, a bit later in the article:
Abortion wasn't a partisan issue until Republicans made it one. In June of 1972, a Gallup poll reported that sixty-eight per cent of Republicans and fifty-nine per cent of Democrats agreed that "the decision to have an abortion should be made solely by a woman and her physician." Fifty-six per cent of Catholics thought so too.
Although the article is well-researched and fact-based, Lepore does get a few pithy editorials into the article now an again:
Neither abortion nor birth control is, by nature, a partisan issue, and, from the vantage of history, it's rather difficult to sort out which position is conservative and which liberal, not least because this debate, which rages at a time when there is no consensus about what makes a person a person, began before an American electorate of white men was able to agree that woman's status as a citizen is any different from that of a child.

...however divided the electorate may or may not be over abortion, as long as Planned Parenthood is the target the G.O.P. stands only to gain by keeping up the attack, because a campaign against a government-funded provider of services for the poor appeals to the Tea Party.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

ah... acting

Wow, wonderful reading of JULIA & BUDDY on Wednesday night - I think it's finally just about there. Of course it could just be the wonderful acting of Claire Warden and Tom O'Keefe - but I do think the script helped. They brought a real "His Girl Friday" feel to the script that was fast and funny - and only took an hour to read. And Tom's Schopenhauer was the best ever.

Of course I could have done without the exploding candle in my apartment. Sigh. It's always something.

Tom is performing literally a block away at the Astoria Center for the Performing arts in A HARD WALL AT HIGH SPEED to very good reviews. Serendipity!

Wednesday, November 09, 2011

Speaking of New Yorker parity...

The magazine VIDA: Women in Literary Arts is on the case of the New Yorker - and other publications, with the feature The Count which has nothing to do with Count von Count, you big geek.

Here is their pie chart for how the New Yorker did in 2010:

Which translates into a 26% parity rate for the year.

Now the favorite excuse for why the parity for these various high-falutin' literary publications is half of what it should be in the twenty-first century is because women just don't submit work as much as men.

There are two problems with this argument as it applies to the New Yorker in particular - the New Yorker uses mostly the same cast of characters week after week.

Looking at this week's issue, and not counting the regular critics/columnists, and editor Devid Reminick, I see a bunch of people I recognize from other New Yorker issues: Ryan Lizza, Jane Mayer, Judith Thurman, Malcolm Gladwell, Jill Lepore.

It's a big insiders club. So the slush pile has little impact on gender parity.

Which may explain the second problem with this argument - the parity rate hasn't budged since at least 1971. Since I have handy access to the New Yorker archives I did a random sampling of four issues from 1971. Here's the breakdown:

February 13, 1971
Total bylines: 13
Female: 4
Male: 9
Parity score 30.77%

June 12, 1971
Total bylines: 12
Female: 3
Male: 9
Parity score: 25%

August 14, 1971
Total bylines: 11
Female: 2
Male: 9
Parity score: 18%

November 13, 1971
Total bylines: 19
Female: 3
Male: 16
Parity score: 15.79%

Average parity: 22%. So based on this random sample, parity has improved in 40 years by 4%.

But as is the case now, back in 1971 the same names pop up on the byline - Calvin Trillin, Edmund Wilson, John Updike. It doesn't hurt female representation that at that time Pauline Kael was movie critic and Edith Oliver was the off-Broadway theatre critic - both those spots are filled by men now.

But even discounting the in-crowd policy, are we to assume that women are only 4% more ambitious and career-oriented than in 1971? That would be odd, considering that 45% of all American women were in the workforce in 1970, the number was 60% in 2007. The rate for American men at the same time went from 82% in 1970 down to 75% in 2007.

So if the parity rate has changed so little in that amount of time, what can we conclude? That the New Yorker is an exclusive club that feels that a steady three men for every woman contributor ratio is just about right.

Tuesday, November 08, 2011

New feature - The New Yorker Parity Report

I'm certainly not the first person to notice the crazy lopsided gender ratios of high-end literary-type magazines like the New Yorker, as this article in Jezebel demonstrates:
The current issue of The Atlantic boasts five-and-a-half pieces by women (Katherine Tiedemann and Peter Bergen share a byline on this story, hence the "half") out of 18 total stories.

The Nation has four-and-a-half pieces by women out of 17 articles in its January issue. (Teachers' union head Randi Weingarten shares a byline with Pedro Noguera.)

The January Harper's is a little worse. It includes 21 bylined stories, but only three pieces from women writers: Lynn Freed, Deb Olin Unferth, and Sharifa Rhodes-Pitts. Barbara Dobrowska and Tom Littlewood translated a piece together, as did Clare Cavanagh and Adam Zagajewski.

A look at the page of contents for the January 13 New York Review of Books reveals 21 essays, including six-and-a-half by women critics: Mary Beard, Arlene Croce (who used to be the New Yorker's dance critic), Sue Halpern, Amy Knight, Margo Picken, and Ingrid D. Rowland; Econo-couple Paul Krugman and Robin Wells contribute a piece under a shared byline.

Among literary magazines, N+1's last issue had out of its 16 items only one piece of fiction, one essay, and one review by women contributors. (There is one un-bylined piece of commentary.)

The Believer is doing comparatively well. Out of 23 bylined pieces, its current issue boasts poetry by Tracy K. Smith, an essay by Unferth, a review by M. Lynx Qualey, and a conversation between John Ehle, Michael Ondaatje, Linda Spalding, and Leon Rooke. Two women (Thalia Field and Bianca Casady) are interviewed (by male writers) and three of the books reviewed in the issue are by women.

Although I'd take "Mag Hag", the author of the Jezebel article a little more seriously as a feminist if they didn't write: "A subscriber boycott is a pretty ballsy move, and I certainly hope it will make the editors there think differently."

Yeah, a "ballsy" move. Like something that someone who has balls would do. Who has balls again? Oh yes, men. Maleness=courage. Who doesn't have balls? Oh, right, pussies.

OMFG - with friends like that...

Anyway, since this article from back in January, the New Yorker appears to have changed its gender balance NOT AT ALL. I'm sure the New Yorker's not the only one. But I'm not ambitious enough to track all those magazines (and the Atlantic and Vanity Fair are pretty right-wing anyway) so I'll stick with the one I subscribe to.

The New Yorker Parity Report
A regular report on the gender parity - or lack thereof - of the current issue of The New Yorker based on table of contents by-lines
Includes fiction, non-fiction, poems. Does not include illustrations.

A score of 50% means that half of all writers in the issue are female.
A score of greater than 50% would mean more female than male writers. This never happens.

Parity change from previous week: +7.14%

November 14, 2011

Total writers - 21
male - 15
female - 6
gender parity score: 28.57%

Last week's score
Total writers - 14
male - 11
female - 3
gender parity score: 21.43%

Monday, November 07, 2011

Death Trap Fancy

Is the Era of the Motorcycle Over? asks Frederick Seidel in the NYTimes.

I hope so.

He suggests that young men are buying iPhones instead of motorcycles, because both have sleek glamor. I don't think that's why, but even if it was, that's fine - your iPhone won't kill you (no definitive connection between cell phones and cancer has been found) and it won't kill your friends. You can't say that about motorcycles. I knew two people who were killed thanks to a motorcycle - the first was Peggy, the sister of my friend Craig, who flew off the back of her boyfriend's motorcycle. The boyfriend survived.

The second was my dear Earl Rich who didn't see an oncoming pickup truck make a sudden left-hand turn in front of him until it was too late.

My brother Kevin was almost injured by a motorcyclist who was driving in the oncoming lane and whose boot got caught in the lane divider - the motorcyclist went flying across two lanes of traffic and landed on my brother's windshield. The boot, with foot inside, remained wedged in the lane divider. The motorcyclist died and if my brother had been on a motorcycle instead of a car, he would probably have been killed too.

How dangerous are motorcycles? The Traffic Safety website has the facts:
  • Motorcycles are the most dangerous type of motor vehicle to drive. These vehicles are involved in fatal crashes at a rate of 35.0 per 100 million miles of travel, compared with a rate of 1.7 per 100 million miles of travel for passenger cars.

  • Motorcyclists were 35 times more likely than passenger car occupants to die in a crash in 2006, per vehicle mile traveled, and 8 times more likely to be injured.

  • Approximately 80% of motorcycle crashes injure or kill a motorcycle rider, while only 20% of passenger car crashes injure or kill a driver or passenger in their vehicle.
More fun facts on the web site.

The Traffic Safety site also mentions that more people over 40 and more women are driving motorcycles now. I'm sure that does nothing to help the cachet of driving a motorcycle now that it isn't something cool young guys mostly do. God knows plenty of men over 40 on online dating sites like to post pictures of themselves with their motorcycles - or even better just their motorcycles. Clearly over-40 guys believe it makes them look desirable to own a motorcycle.

Unlike the glory days of motorcycles, women are now much more likely to own their own vehicles - because they are more likely to have jobs. They aren't as likely to need a man to drive them around and have less patience to be driven around on a vehicle that permits neither conversation nor driving in inclement weather. Motorcycles are a luxury in which the costs have outweighed the benefits of coolness.

Seidel ends his paen to motorcycles this way:
In Dallas, at Advanced Motorsports, his motorcycle dealership, Jeff Nash, a gentleman and one of the great Ducati racebike tuners in America, and a racer himself, deplores the passivity of the young who would rather be home with their iPads playing computer games than astride the red-meat lightning of an 1198 Superbike blazing down a Texas highway making that unmistakable growling deep Ducati sound. Mr. Nash would go further.

Better to be out in the air astride just about any motorcycle alive!

But if he really wants young men to be outside, what's wrong with walking? What's wrong with skateboards? With rollerblades? With bicycles? All give you more exercise, make almost no noise, burn no fossil fuels, and are much, much safer.

No, the key to what Seidel really wants is the word "red-meat" - Seidel gives fuck-all for the great outdoors, what Seidel longs for is a return to manly macho. He should just come out and say it, instead of presenting himself as some kind of advocate of freedom and physical activity. It's his dissembling which reveals why he truly needs a motorcycle to make him feel all virile - because actually, he's a wimp.

Sunday, November 06, 2011

Jesus hopped the A train

This post contains spoilers for JESUS HOPPED THE A TRAIN.

I read JESUS HOPPED THE A TRAIN and VENUS IN FUR at around the same time and I think JESUS is the better play. Which I would not have expected since JESUS is about violence and seems to include a plug for religion, while VENUS is about sex with a Greek goddess.

I had to finally read JESUS since I gave the play's title a shout-out in my MISTRESS ILSA play. Mistress Ilsa has a habit of using The Lord's name in vain in a variety of colorful ways: holy hopping Jesus on a pogo stick!; Jesus on the half-shell! etc. So she used the title of the play at one point. You can watch it here.

JESUS is more complex and the story is more interesting than VENUS, even though much of the play is composed of monologues.

The main character is Angel, who shot a Korean cult leader in the butt and is in jail for that. He meets up with another prisoner who seems genial and the victim of an unfairly mean prison guard. In spite of a public defender taking an interest in his case and trying to keep him out of jail, he's sentenced to a long time in jail - his lawyer tried to get him to lie on the stand, and because he found faith, apparently, he won't do it. His lawyer ends up disbarred.

And here's where I'm going to get on my soapbox about the over-use of the "reveal" - it seems like every contemporary play has to have one. JESUS has one, VENUS has one and the crappy play I saw in Astoria today, which I won't mention by name, has one - in this case that the protagonist worked for the flight school that unknowingly trained the 9-11 hijackers to fly. We had to sit through a dreary sitcom-esque thirty minutes before we got to that part.

Even though HAMLET is not absolutely perfect (see yesterday's post for details) it does not have any reveals. We know exactly what the issue is from the earliest scenes of the play. Hamlet is mourning his father, he sees his father's ghost, the ghost tells him that his uncle killed him. Everything that happens in the play stems from that.

And that's the way it goes with all Shakespeare's plays. Information is not always revealed to characters, but the audience is always privy to the information.

The big reveal in JESUS, about 2/3 of the way through the script is that the seemingly good, devout jailbird Lucius is a psychopathic killer who has killed at least eight people. At one point he describes torturing and killing a little boy. Suddenly the mean prison guard doesn't seem so bad.

It would have been OK except that we are supposed to believe Angel finds religion by having debates about God with Lucius - after he already knows he's a psychopath - and I find that absurd. Probably because I am an atheist and Guirgis is not - he's a little coy about it on his Facebook profile - under Religious Views it says "360 degrees" but I found a quote from him here:

I also think that religion gets a bad rap in this country and that non-maniac-type people who are religious or spiritual have a responsibility to stand up, be counted, and gently encourage others to consider matters of faith and to define for themselves what their responsibilities are and what it means to try and be “good.” It’s not about joining a team or a church or choosing sides or learning a prayer. It’s not about man-made concepts of good and evil. It’s not about doing “enough” or “too little.” It’s not about shame and guilt. It’s about You. It’s about the collective Us. Thomas Merton said, “To be a saint means to be myself.” What if that were true? What is it that we need to overcome in order to truly be “Ourselves”?
But the reason that religion gets a "bad rap" is exactly because it's about joining a team or a church and choosing sides, etc. If all religions had the vague, no-judgments attitude of the Unitarian Universalists it wouldn't get a bad rap. But Unitarianism is a tiny sect compared to the religions that tell you if you are on their team you won't go to hell - and some that go one better than that and tell you if you join their team Jesus will give you stuff.

That is what religion is mostly about to the mass of humanity: praying to get stuff. Except for some eastern sects who seek to end all desire - of course not wanting desire is a form of desire.

But it's because religions are so nasty that so many people these days, who are not ready to commit to atheism say they are "spiritual, not religious."

But Guirgis knows how to write a monologue and he found a way to have lots of monologues but still painlessly move the plot along and reveal character. Plus some of the interactions between the prisoners and guards are very funny.

So the upshot is that I found much to like about JESUS HOPPED THE A TRAIN, but the conclusion was unsatisfying and not believable. And the whole obvious religious metaphor of the Angel/Lucius names was a bit much too.

But it bears much more thinking about than VENUS IN FUR. Mostly because VIF is, as I said, a straight-up sexual fantasy.

Saturday, November 05, 2011

first rule of writing: have something to say

(from "Breakfast of Champions")

The NYTimes review of the Kurt Vonnegut bio says some very annoying things, like:
“On the strength of Vonnegut’s reputation, ‘Breakfast of Champions’ spent a year on the best-seller lists,” Mr. Shields writes of that 1973 disappointment, “proving that he could indeed publish anything and make money.” Although he is clearly conversant with Kilgore Trout, Eliot Rosewater, Montana Wildhack and other “denizens of a zany Yoknapatawpha County for the Vonnegut faithful,”
I call bullshit on this statement. Breakfast of Champions is a great book.

...for the first part of his writing career Vonnegut successfully compartmentalized his familial and writerly personas. But eventually they began to blend, as Mr. Vonnegut made himself more of an explicit persona in his writing (sometimes melding with Kilgore Trout). He reached “a tipping point in the balance between fresh narrative and essayistic memoir,”
I loved when Vonnegut got autobiographical, that's some of his best writing.

The reason that virtually all of Vonnegut's books are worthwhile is because he always had something interesting to say. Here's an excellent little piece someone excerpted from Palm Sunday: How to Write with Style.
Newspaper reporters and technical writers are trained to reveal almost nothing about themselves in their writings. This makes them freaks in the world of writers, since almost all of the other ink-stained wretches in that world reveal a lot about themselves to readers. We call these revelations, accidental and intentional, elements of style.

These revelations tell us as readers what sort of person it is with whom we are spending time. Does the writer sound ignorant or informed, stupid or bright, crooked or honest, humorless or playful– ? And on and on.

Why should you examine your writing style with the idea of improving it? Do so as a mark of respect for your readers, whatever you’re writing. If you scribble your thoughts any which way, your readers will surely feel that you care nothing about them. They will mark you down as an egomaniac or a chowderhead — or, worse, they will stop reading you.

The most damning revelation you can make about yourself is that you do not know what is interesting and what is not. Don’t you yourself like or dislike writers mainly for what they choose to show you or make you think about? Did you ever admire an emptyheaded writer for his or her mastery of the language? No.

So your own winning style must begin with ideas in your head.

1. Find a subject you care about

Find a subject you care about and which you in your heart feel others should care about. It is this genuine caring, and not your games with language, which will be the most compelling and seductive element in your style...

More at the link. I will chime in that in spite of all the claims to the contrary, Shakespeare isn't still popular because of the beauty of his language. I think it's because he had something to say; his plots were good and tight (although not always perfect - I even have a problem with HAMLET); and he wrote better parts for women than any other playwright, including Shaw.

Friday, November 04, 2011

Mortar but no Mystery

My Facebook friend Workshop Theatre Company posted a link recently to an article by Greg Oliver Bodine about Edgar Allen Poe. I can't say I agree with Bodine's suggestions that if Poe was alive now he might be a detective or a writer for a television crime show like "Law and Order" - thanks to his raging alcoholism Poe could barely keep his shit together well enough to ensure he got paid reasonably for his sporadic output - he made $9 for "The Raven."

But the quality of the article's insights about Poe is not of much consequence since no doubt its main purpose is to publicize Bodine's one-man show POE TIMES TWO, currently running at the Workshop Theatre Company. And Bodine's strength isn't really writing, it's acting.

I cast him as the Duke in the January 2007 production of my HUCK FINN and was so impressed by his acting that I wrote and produced an adaptation of "Jane Eyre" just so I could see what he would do with the role of Rochester - and I was not disappointed.

The tag-line for POE TIMES TWO is "Twin tales of mystery, murder... and mortar!" which is cute and alliterative, but only the murder and mortar are accurate: there is no mystery. At least, not mystery in the usual sense of a detective story. The mystery is "why do some people become homicidal maniacs?" And neither the original stories nor the plays solve that one.

The show is also being touted as scary, but unless it has changed quite a bit since the first production, which I saw in 2007, it really isn't. And I'm someone who scares pretty easily, so much so that the last entire horror/suspense movie I've seen is... never. I had my eyes closed for most of Jaws (which I saw in the theatre) and I fast-forwarded through The Sixth Sense and Silence of the Lambs - and I knew the outcome of both before watching anyway. I am a huge scairdy cat when it comes to this kind of thing, so if I wasn't scared, well, it's because it just ain't scary.

POE TIMES TWO is comprised of Poe's short stories "Cask of Amontillado" and "The Black Cat" performed solo by Bodine. The plays are very faithful to the originals except that each has a framing device in which the homicidal maniac is in the hands of the law and is confessing to the crime - in the case of Cask to a jury. In the case of The Black Cat, the narrator is already in prison (as in the original) but Bodine has him writing his confession down as a cautionary tale for others. I like the framing devices but if anything they work to reduce any mysterious aspect of the stories even further.

Bodine put together another show, WICKED TAVERN TALES that was performed by other people (and which I also saw) that includes those two stories and THE TELLTALE HEART. I think Bodine opted not to do HEART in his one-man show because it's performed most often of all Poe's stories. But there's a good reason why that is - because it's the best story.

It's interesting to note that the structures of The Tell-tale Heart and of The Black Cat are quite similar - a person is angry at someone, kills them and then the crime is revealed through a sound. The main difference in structure is that in Heart the killer confesses due to hearing the heart still beating after the victim's death, while in The Black Cat it is an actual cat's yowling that leads to the revelation.

The Tell-tale Heart doesn't work so well because it's a mystery - it works because of the psychological drama of the narrator recounting how he heard the heart relentlessly beating, which is presumabely his conscience at work.

All these tales are told first-person in the original works but only The Tell-tale Heart gives no clue as to the identity of the narrator. It's always assumed to be a man, but Bodine wrote the part for a female actor and deserves much credit for that refreshing and progressive innovation.

Cask of Amontillado is the least of the three tales, both in the original and in Bodine's version. It's just a nasty piece of work: the narrator, Montresor has unspecified grievances against Fortunato, so he lures him into a catacombs, gets him drunk and walls him up to let him die. Although the original is even worse - he gets away with it for 50 years, as he tells us. At least Bodine has him caught and punished.

But in any case, there is no mystery, it's simply a tale of pointless cruelty. Cask is performed first in POE TIMES TWO and I was so appalled by it I almost walked out during the change-over to The Black Cat. I thought "what was the point of that?" And I still don't know. I don't see the edification or the entertainment value in watching a guy tell us, without remorse, about a horrible thing he did. Even if he is found guilty for it. And the Montresor character is so relentlessly cold and heartless, there's very little even Bodine can do with it. He's pretty much one-note - arrogant and unrepentant.

But I didn't walk out and was relieved to find that The Black Cat was much better than Cask, although not especially because of the story, which is another dolorous recounting of cruelty, and made more appalling by the double cruelty of the narrator maiming his pet and murdering his wife.

The narrator of The Black Cat suggests that heavy drinking is to blame for his turning evil, which hardly seems to cover it, and during the play we see him sobered up and looking small and meek and vulnerable - his prison uniform looks like pajamas. Mostly he is consumed with remorse and Bodine works that like a true Master of Fine Arts. Not everybody has done the awful things that the narrator has done, but everybody knows what remorse - or at least regret - feels like - and Bodine provokes a performer-audience empathetic connection through his skillful and nuanced rendering of the character.

So POE TIMES TWO has artistic value - but no thanks to CASK OF AMONTILLADO and little thanks to THE BLACK CAT, except as a springboard for Bodine's excellent acting. Although I think he was even better in JANE EYRE.

Fun fact - in spite of Mark Twain's praise for "Murders of the Rue Morgue" he was generally not impressed by Poe's work, as revealed in this letter. Although he's even less impressed by Jane Austen and I have to agree with him there.

Thursday, November 03, 2011

more musings on Zombie fail

I've had zombies on the brain - figuratively - lately thanks to Halloween. The continuing popularity of zombies, I believe, is due to zombie costumes being among the easiest to make.

It's certainly not because zombies are so badass - face it, zombies are the lamest adversaries ever, as I blogged about a year ago.

It's recently come to my attention that Cracked beat me to the punch by several months: 7 Scientific Reasons a Zombie Outbreak Would Fail (Quickly)

I pretty much covered their reason #1 in my post on the topic, but they cover it at greater length and more entertainingly:

As we touched on briefly above, if Homo sapiens are good at one thing, it's killing other things. We're so good at it that we've made entire other species cease to exist without even trying. Add to the mix the sheer number of armed rednecks and hunters out there, and the zombies don't even stand a chance. There were over 14 million people hunting with a license in the U.S. in 2004. At a minimum, that's like an armed force the size of the great Los Angeles area.

Remember, the whole reason hunting licenses exist is to limit the number of animals you're allowed to kill, because if you just declared free reign for everybody with a gun, everything in the forest would be dead by sundown. Even the trees would be mounted proudly above the late-arriving hunter's mantles. It's safe to assume that when the game changes from "three deer" to "all the rotting dead people trying to eat us," there will be no shortage of volunteers.

Plus, if we look at zombies as a species, they are pretty much designed for failure. Their main form of reproduction is also their only source of food and their top predator. If they want to eat or reproduce, they have to go toe to toe with their number one predator every single time. That's like having to fight a lion every time you to want to have sex or make a sandwich. Actually, it's worse than that: Most top predators are only armed with teeth and claws, meaning they have to put themselves in harm's way to score a kill. Humans have rifles.

More fun articles from Cracked (warning - it's a time sink)

6 most insane people ever to run for office

The CIA's 5 most mind-blowing experiments with LSD

6 Famous Geniuses You Didn't Know Were Perverts
I don't know if I exactly agree with the label "pervert" in some cases... but warning - you may have a hard time forgetting the image of Rousseau accosting women with his... well, anyways, you have been warned.

Wednesday, November 02, 2011

Krugman's costume fun!

A couple of days late for Halloween but I couldn't resist posting these costumes from the NYTimes blog of the Mighty Krug-man.

This one is the best. costume. Ever!

My favorite part of this costume is the giant Nobel Prize medallion he wears.

Originally on Business Insider but I found it on Krugman's blog.

This costume is great too - the Confidence Fairy!

You have to be super-wonky to know who the Confidence Fairy is - she is the creation of Krugman to personify the right-wing anti-stimulus crowd's belief that we must lower taxes on business which will in turn give businesses enough confidence to hire and spend us all out of the recession.

Here's an example of how Krugman uses this character: The White House Believes in the Confidence Fairy.

She is often seen in the company of the Bond Vigilantes.

And please note she is holding "Atlas Shrugged" by Ayn Rand.

What is it about Ayn Rand and fairies? In my play Christmas Blessing about the Christmas Fairy of New York we discover that (SPOILER ALERT!) Ayn Rand is spending her afterlife as the Christmas Fairy of Minnesota, forced to bestow good cheer and warm holiday feelings on all altruists.

Tuesday, November 01, 2011


The winner of the NYCPlaywrights October Play of the Month, James McLindon, has the most impressive resume of all the winners yet - dude has had a gazillion productions. Here's his web site. He had to beat out over 70 submissions for the monthly theme which was "the supernatural." I never look at the resumes of playwrights who submit to NYCPlaywrights. But it was clear to me that this play was written by someone who knew what they were doing. And of course I'm a bit partial to Celtic mythology, as apparent by my adaptation of TAM LIN.

I very much enjoy the performances, especially Doug Rossi's leprechaun.

And my producer side was pleased too - I got to use not only Winnie the Pooh from my POOH STORY from Stress and the City show, but I got to use the little figurines I got when creating the JANE EYRE set. I was going to make the set model to scale to these figures and walk through the entire show with my production partner, with the figures of course representing the characters from the play. I ended up using chess pieces instead, which I should have thought of in the first place.

The set ended up being pretty good, I thought, but I was always annoyed with myself for spending the money on these pretty expensive figures. On several occasions I thought of just throwing them all away, but never could quite bring myself to. So I'm thrilled they actually came in handy after all.