Friday, September 30, 2016

Samantha Bee wins the election season

Best line:

"Save us from fascism, but like, don't be a bitch about it."

That describes exactly what Clinton has to put up with.

Thursday, September 29, 2016

Plays plays plays

Well I should be working on the latest draft of my play DARK MARKET since I'm having a reading pretty soon, but instead I was diverted into a new draft of my play PALMYRA NJ, which I was working on over five years ago, without much success. But I think I can make it work this time. Famous last words.

I didn't realize it when I lived in Palmyra (for barely a year but it seemed longer) but the original Palmyra is ancient Semitic city in present-day Homs Governorate, Syria. Archaeological finds date back to the Neolithicperiod, and the city was first documented in the early second millennium BC. Palmyra changed hands on a number of occasions between different empires before becoming a subject of the Roman Empire in the first century AD.

Palmyra New Jersey was named after that one.
...settled in the late 17th century by Swedes, marking the northernmost border of New Sweden. A farmhouse built in 1761 by the third generation settlers still remains as the oldest house in Palmyra.[21] Farming was the primary use of land in Palmyra and the surrounding area until after the construction of the Camden and Amboy Railroad in 1834 with a station in the area, after which railroad workers built homes on lots they purchased along the railroad right of way. The community was originally known as Texas, but a local landowner, Isaiah Toy, a descendant of the original Swedish settlers and a stockholder in the Camden and Amboy Railroad, who wanted to have a post office established in the community, convinced the railroad to change the name of the station in 1849 to Palmyra, which came from his love of ancient history.[22] Palmyra was the name of an ancient trading center located in central Syria.

 It turns out there are lots of Palmyras in the US and elsewhere.

Wednesday, September 28, 2016

Steven Pinker, still hawking gender essentialism

To Steven Pinker, everything is reducible to evolutionary psychology. And since it is evo-psycho, he doesn't even consider the need to present evidence that:
a. the term "alpha male" describes something outside the evo-psycho imagination;
b. said alpha males are more concerned about incipient megalomaniacal robots than everybody else; and
c. women are less power-mad than men, by nature 
Nope, you don't need evidence to promote evolutionary psychology explanations, just a plausible-sounding just-so story to impress the dullards and make a snappy Big Think soundbite.

Tuesday, September 27, 2016

LOL - Trump is such a loser

Monday, September 26, 2016

Excellent 2008 financial crisis explanation

I admit I am worried about a potential meltdown happening in the not-too-distant future thanks to low interest rates.

As this video explains, at minute 6:30, the motivating force behind the risky lending that created the 2008 financial crisis was the desire for investors to get a better interest rate on their investments than 1% which is what they can get for investing in Treasury Bills.

Thanks to my recently watching Krugman videos, I'm aware that not only are investment rates low, but Krugman believes that they will remain low for a long time, thanks to aging populations and lower overall rates of investments.

Krugman talks about this at his recent 92 St. Y presentation and points out that 80% of Americans aren't living on the interest of their savings, and older Americans are living on Social Security. But of course it's the people who do have enough savings, so much that they do get a significant portion of their income from interest rate payouts who will drive the next crisis. In addition to pushing the Fed to raise interest rates, they will also be looking for ways to make riskier investments, which pay out a better interest rate. As Krugman noted:
What is the role of interest in this world? Interest, classically (and I do mean classically, as in Mr. Keynes and the), is the reward for waiting: there’s supposedly a social function to interest because it rewards people for saving rather than spending. But right now we’re awash in excess savings with nowhere to go, and the marginal social value of a dollar of savings is negative. So real interest rates should be negative too, if they’re supposed to reflect social payoffs.
This really isn’t at all exotic — but obviously it’s a point wealth-owners don’t want to hear. Hence the constant agitation for monetary tightening.

The video was created by Jonathan Jarvis. Who also has a Twitter account.

Sunday, September 25, 2016

Just a shit-ton of famous people

I've forgiven even Mark Ruffalo for being such an intransigent Berniebro. Although Joss Whedon actually gets credit for putting this together.

And I still remember Whedon's hysterical ad in 2012, Mitt Romney's Zombie Apocalypse.

Saturday, September 24, 2016


Krugman is always an enjoyable source of enlightenment on the issue of economics and politics, but I was especially interested in brushing up on my Krugman as a way to get me back into re-writing my play DARK MARKET. Now that I've had a good reading of a fairly good draft of my NORMA JEANE play it's time to get ready for the next DARK MARKET reading - the first in almost a year (!)  in a couple of weeks.

So I've been mainlining Krugman speeches.

Krugman himself, via his Twitter account provided a link to his most recent public speaking engagement at conference in Geneva.

Next I was interested to see that I had somehow missed him speaking - again - at the 92nd Street Y. I caught him in person at the Y in 2009 almost exactly seven years ago, back when I lived on the Upper East Side. I was excited to see he was interviewed by Gillian Tett, whom I first heard of thanks to her interview in the movie Inside Job.

Krugman has also been on Bill Maher's show. I don't think I knew that.

Friday, September 23, 2016

Hillbilly Con Man

J. D. Vance, author of Hillbilly Elegy, who has charmed the gullible media with his aw-shucks, white racists is jes folks persona has revealed his true colors today.

First this tweet:

It's absolutely mind-boggling that Vance would equate a monster like Donald Trump with John Oliver, someone who has actually stood up for poor people - you know, the people that Vance claims to champion.

And also today, Vance promotes the media's favorite false equivalence - that Hillary Clinton calling out racists is just as bad as Donald Trump's and followers' racism.

Thursday, September 22, 2016

Welcome to Autumn 2016

A maple tree with little birds 紅葉小禽図 by Itō Jakuchū 伊藤 若冲 (1716-1800).

This evening, autumn chills me—
 But there will be a day 

When I will lovingly recall this evening 

Wednesday, September 21, 2016

The feelz

Say what you want about the self-indulgent pauses and lack of drama (except the feelz) of the plays of Annie Baker, thanks to their skimpy dialog it's a freaking snap to read them. I've saved some serious dough ray mi by reading her plays in the bookstore.

Recently it was THE ALIENS which, like every other thing she's written, the critics are delirious over, exactly the same way they are for everything written by Mac Wellman (who? yeah, he was fashionable twenty years ago), as I discuss here. Wellman is apparently Baker's mentor. It took me no more than fifteen minutes to read ALIENS.

I thought it was OK. It was about young menz having intense but understated feelz. And I was spared the necessity of following the stage directions at the top in which Baker states that the play will consist of one third to one half silence.

At the end of the play there was something that I am beginning to think of as a Bakerism - appropriating another work of art in order to punch up her own decorous low-keyness with some actual drama.  In the case of THE FLICK it was reciting the entire Ezekiel 25:17 monologue from Pulp Fiction. In the case of THE ALIENS it was having a character sing "If I Had a Hammer." Here I was feeling guilty because I have a character performing a few lines of HAMLET in my JULIA & BUDDY. Guess I need to get over that.

Tuesday, September 20, 2016

For the recovered sheet music co-written by Mozart and Salieri

Unbelievable. This year, in January, they discovered a piece of music that was lost for centuries - and co-written by Mozart and Salieri. It's called For the recovered health of Ophelia.

This recording seems to suggest that the piece is just three small pieces strung together, the first written by Salieri, the second by Mozart and the third by Cornetti. Nobody knows who the hell Cornetti was. But I haven't found anything written about this piece yet explaining how they know who wrote what.

Sunday, September 18, 2016

Patriotism postponed

The Burke show is worth watching just for this
explanation of space ship navigation techniques alone.
Looks like I'm not making it to Philly today - I have postponed my get-out-the-vote trip until next month.

In the meantime, I have re-discovered the work of James Burke, which I do every four years or so. He usually does series but he did this fascinating one-off from 1979 called The Men Who Walked on the Moon. He explains the basics of how lunar spacecraft and rockets work. As Spaulding Gray said in Swimming to Cambodia - leave it to a Brit to explain American history to an American.

Jim Lovell makes an appearance along with the men who actually walked on the moon - Lovell was portrayed by Tom Hanks in the movie Apollo 13 - and in just a brief clip it's clear that Lovell is one of the more witty and personable astronauts.

And if you've seen Apollo 13 you're be especially fascinated by the middle of this program, which talks about the things that went wrong. I found it especially interesting to see how this documentary matched up with the movie - it mostly did, although the other two astronaut's response to the crises was much more relaxed in real life than in the movie, according to the interview with Lovell in this documentary. Apparently Haise and Swigert were very confident in Lovell's and NASAs ability to rescue them and so instead were both concerned about taking photos of the dark side of the moon - according to Lovell they were both fiddling with their camera settings soon after the tank explosion.

Towards the end of the video you'll learn more than you'll ever want to know about how astronauts poop in space.

And at the very end, Burke rants about the end of the space program - he's really annoyed by the end of deep space exploration.

You can watch the whole thing here.

Saturday, September 17, 2016

Set phasers on BURN

Friday, September 16, 2016

Albee out

Albee in his loft in 1991 - I was in that very same loft
eight years later - albeit Albee wasn't there at the time.
Edward Albee has died. Unlike virtually everybody else in the world of theater, I was never a big fan of his, going so far as to write a 10-minute parody of his play ZOO STORY.

So I don't feel a huge amount of regret, although it's always sad when somebody dies. And it's a big deal in the theater world.

Patriotic activities

As Donald Trump is a certified traitor to this nation,   any actions that oppose his candidacy are automatically patriotic. 

Here's my actor buddy Matt working the refs, tweeting at various media outlets (this is only one example, you can see more here) for their typically weak job of checking Donald Trump's incessant lies.

As for me, in addition to my Facebook posts, I am going to Philly, my old home town, with the Clinton team on Sunday to get out the Democratic vote. I will be reporting on that soon after.

Many people are panicking about Donald Trump drawing even with Clinton, as this NYTimes article notes:  Hillary Clinton’s Backers Thought She Couldn’t Lose. Now, ‘I Can’t Go There.’

Then there are those who traffic in angst professionally, who are straining to consider even the chance of a Trump election.
“The possibility of that is too horrifying to broach,” Larry David, the “Seinfeld” co-creator and “Curb Your Enthusiasm” star, wrote in an email. “It’s like contemplating your own death.”
Surely Mr. David had done that, too?
“I can’t go there,” he said.
And good old Stephen Colbert makes an excellent point in this clip - the previous three presidential races were also tied in mid-September. So maybe hold off on that Canadian citizenship application for the time being...

A crappy premise for a play

From the NYTimes:

In Mr. Bartlett’s “Love, Love, Love” (the title is a sly riff on the Beatles’ “All You Need Is Love”), she plays Sandra, a rapacious woman who ages from 19 to 64 in the course of the drama, exemplifying the egotism of the Me Generation, often at the expense of her children. (Mr. Bartlett’s New York breakthrough was as the writer of “King Charles III, on Broadway last season.)
I hate generational generalities anyway, but especially a woman standing in for "Me Generation" egotism. Yeah those horrible women, thinking of themselves first, instead of the kids, like they're men or something. This play sounds incredibly reactionary.

Wednesday, September 14, 2016

Donald Trump, still a traitor to the United States of America

Thomas Friedman's article Donald Trump's Putin Crush:

When it comes to rebutting Donald Trump’s idiotic observation that Vladimir Putin is a strong leader — “far more than our president has been a leader” — it is hard to top the assessment of Russian-born Garry Kasparov, the former world chess champion, which The Times’s Andrew Higgins quoted in his story from Moscow: “Vladimir Putin is a strong leader in the same way that arsenic is a strong drink. Praising a brutal K.G.B. dictator, especially as preferable to a democratically elected U.S. president, whether you like Obama or hate him, is despicable and dangerous.”
Indeed, Kasparov’s point cuts to the core of what is so scary about a Trump presidency: Trump is what The Economist has called “the leading exponent of ‘post-truth’ politics — a reliance on assertions that ‘feel true’ but have no basis in fact,” and, sadly, “his brazenness is not punished, but taken as evidence of his willingness to stand up to elite power.” When politics becomes “like pro-wrestling,” society pays a huge cost, The Economist added, because any complex explanation of any problem is dismissed as experts just trying “to bamboozle everyone else.”

Tuesday, September 13, 2016

It's the adventures of Butz & Schopenhauer

I happened to bump into this web page about a comic strip based on philosopher Arthur Schopenhauer.
His word-balloon reads: "all religion is in antagonism with the culture"

It's all in German. According to Google translate the intro says:
The Comic Strip series BUTZ & Schopenhauer puts the philosophers Arthur Schopenhauer (1788-1860) in our time. Together with his life Companion, the Poodle Butz, is the great thinker as modest pensioners among us. It traverses the public spaces of the modern city: the pedestrian areas, the Department stores and the city parks. He finds himself in communication and conflict with the Types and characters of our time. Our contemporaries Schopenhauer speaks with those wonderful and scarce resounding aphorisms that have made him famous and cited to this day a lot. With the power of his language he represents our world to the test ; But our world is A tough test for him. Not infrequently gets his philosophical composure falter, and the eloquent spirit man must rely on the emotional backing his dumb dog BUTZ .

I assume when they use the word "dumb" in this case they mean mute, rather than stupid. There only seems to be nine episodes of this comic strip though, which is a shame.

Monday, September 12, 2016

BLACKBIRD/UNA remind us: the male POV reigns supreme

I finally read the script for David Harrower's BLACKBIRD and it turns out to be exactly what I suspected it was - a male fantasy in which the victim of child rape and her abuser are portrayed as a couple in love. Or as Ben Brantley said when it was first shown off-Broadway at the Manhattan Theater Club:
This is essential, since for “Blackbird” to work, you have to accept it as a love story — a tragic, horrible love story that destroys lives, but a love story all the same. Mr. Daniels and Ms. Pill are extraordinary in guaranteeing this acceptance.
In spite of the Ray character having a cellphone, the play BLACKBIRD is pretty much obsolete in the United States. In the play there is apparently no sex offender notification laws so that only Una and, maybe, Ray's wife know that a convicted child rapist has access to another twelve-year-old girl. The Sex Offender Registration and Notification Act has been the law of the land in the United States since 2006. So the play was already obsolete by the time of its first off-Broadway production, let alone the recent Broadway production.

What's really bizarre is that we are apparently supposed to believe Ray when he says he won't sexually abuse his wife's 12-year-old daughter. In spite of the fact that pedophiles have an extremely high rate of recidivism. The strong chance of a pedophile victimizing another child is what caused the creation of the Sex Offender law in the first place.

So why do theater organizations want to produce an obsolete play about a pedophile and his victim "in love"? Because theater is still completely dominated by men, and men's misogynist attitudes towards women and girls, and theater loves to wallow in the endless, helpless pain and suffering of women - something theater has done since THE TROJAN WOMEN. Plays like this are much easier for men to watch because of their cultural conditioning to view women as the Other, which reduces any painful feelings that could result from empathy.

I guaran-fucking-tee you that if, instead of a pretty woman in her twenties showing up ready to have sex in a trash-strewn company break room with a man pushing 60, the man was a priest and he had abused a twelve-year-old altar boy, who was now in love with and DTF the priest, these male critics would not find it nearly so romantic.

Naturally Blackbird was turned into a movie, "Una" made by men. As the Todd VanDerWerff in Vox says:
But the far more troubling error is that Una depicts, in several flashbacks, what happened when Una was 13. To its credit, Una knows her statutory rape was horrifying; less to its credit, it can’t figure out a way to visually reflect that horror. Thus, the flashbacks have a strange romantic, erotic charge that really shouldn’t be there.

I'm not sure what he means by "shouldn't" be there, but I think the fact that they have a "romantic, erotic charge" tells us what the men who made the movie actually feel about the scenario. The review later notes:
And yet, all the same, neither film can entirely escape the fact that it was written and directed by a man. They might feature women as protagonists, but the thing both films want you to think about is ultimately something that has nothing to do with those women: the thought of being a rapist who is understood, yes, but also absolved, and maybe even forgiven.

Well but of course films about rape will be told from a male point of view and include a plea for understanding and forgiveness. And it will continue to be that way as long as men continue to dominate the world and use their power to harm women.

Sunday, September 11, 2016

Dick is abundant and low value

And speaking of Evan Marc Katz and the "how to get a man" franchises, how did it take me so long to learn of this perfect mantra?

Dick is abundant and low value. I had gotten my new motto amidst the worst break-up of my life. Shaken to my core by the degrading insults my ex had hurled at me but also mourning the permanent departure of some poetically good dick, I was spending a day mindlessly refreshing Twitter and reading up on how to spot sociopaths. I came across two tweets from Madeleine Holden, a lawyer and writer who regularly entertains the Twitter masses with her unapologetic analyses of toxic masculinity and her praise of amazing female-identified people: 

In my memory, those last six words emerged from the screen with their outer edges glowing like the inscription in the Dark Tongue of Mordor on the One Ring. I was transformed, nay, transfigured, by the message. 
Conversations were governed by the same rules as matches. Lead with a pussy joke about my cat? Dick is abundant and low value. Choose a meeting place that doesn’t account for my commute there? Dick is abundant and low value. Ask for nudes too soon? Dick is abundant and low value. Cancel twice? Dick is abundant and low value. Send an unsolicited photo of your lower body in your laundry-day underwear with your hand suggestively but not sexily placed over your semi and not even bothering to crop out your poor cat? Dick is abundant and low value.
I'm going to start sending the motto to the random assholes I meet on dating sites. Speaking of which - thanks so much for the offer, random pudgy man.

Saturday, September 10, 2016

Evan Marc Katz: women must be passive for alpha males

Once again, Evan Marc Katz has fresh content in which he tells women to be passive if they want a man:
For the uninitiated, mirroring is designed for one purpose – to prevent women from chasing down men who are not interested in them. It is not a game. It is not a throwback to the 1950’s. It requires no thought and very little effort. Mirroring presumes one basic thing about that guy you like: if he’s interested in you, he’ll let you know.
If he texts you, text him back right away.
If he calls you, call him back right away.
If he says he wants to see you this weekend and you’re free, say yes.
If he says he wants to be your boyfriend and you feel the same, say yes.
Mirroring is reactive, not proactive.

It gives men the space they need to choose you, prevents you from looking needy and desperate, and reveals what men are thinking – all without doing ANYTHING.

Mirroring is based on confidence, not insecurity. You should never have to chase a guy down and remind him that you’re alive and available and want to see him. All you have to do is be warm, enthusiastic and available when he reaches out to you.

The primary exception to mirroring comes in the form of beta/feminine men. Beta/feminine men are often some of the best husbands out there, but they conduct themselves in a passive way, leaving women wondering how they feel. In short, these nice guys are so insecure about pursuing you and making a move that they often wait for YOU to express interest in them. “You can call me, you know,” might be their mantra. Which is fine. However, this puts you in your “masculine energy,” and forces you to be the one to reach out to him to gauge his interest and availability.

As a dating coach for women, I don’t like that model. Nor do most of my clients. They may be proactive superstars in real life, but they tend to prefer being courted by men.
Which brings us back to the beginning. When a man is interested in you, you don’t have to do anything except say yes. You never have to reach out to him because he will do it for you. It’s in his best interest – whether he wants to get laid or whether he wants to be your boyfriend. You have to trust that.

"but they tend to prefer being courted by men"

So "beta/feminine men" says Katz, using the terminology of evolutionary psychology and Men's Rights Activists, are not actual men.

And the best part is that Evan Marc Katz claims to be a feminist.

It's important to note that the kind of men that Katz is promoting to his poor sad clients are so backwards, their masculinity is so incredibly fragile, that they will freak right the fuck out if you exhibit any initiative whatsoever. You must absolutely wait for him to choose you, or no deal.

To Katz a true man is one who believes in traditional gender roles - in other words men who are more likely to be abusive

You know who didn't take the kind of advice that Evan Marc Katz is dishing out? Linda McCartney.
...Five months later, in May 1968, she turned up at a press conference being given by Paul and John at a New York hotel. ‘I managed to slip him my phone number,’ she recalled later. ‘He rang me up and told me they were leaving that evening, but he’d like it if I was able to travel out to the airport with him and John. So I went out in their limousine, sandwiched between Paul and John.’
Is Paul McCartney a beta male? Well it didn't utterly emasculate him when Linda didn't wait for him to ask for her phone number. So by the Katz definition, yes.

You know who else was not passive? Yoko Ono:
Eventually, Yoko’s dogged pursuit of John became so blatant that it developed into something of a private joke between the married couple. Yoko’s grande atrocity occurred one night when she turned up at the Transcendental Meditation lecture John and Cynthia were attending in London. When it was over she followed them out of the lecture hall and into the backseat of John’s psychedelically hand-painted Rolls-Royce limousine and sat herself down between them. Cynthia and John exchanged embarrassed smiles over her head until the chauffeur dropped her off at Park Row, where she was living with her husband.
So apparently in Evan Marc Katz's book, John Lennon, leader of Beatles was a beta male, and not "a man." 

Granted Yoko's approach was much more extreme than Linda's but neither of those women - who were, by the way, older than the man they were pursuing - Linda only by a half-year, Yoko by eight years - were passive. They were proactive and extremely proactive in the case of Yoko Ono.

So John Lennon and Paul McCartney both failed the alpha male type test. They ended up with pro-active women. Women like Elizabeth Warren, who proposed to her husband.

You know who does match the "alpha male" type that Katz is constantly selling to his sad backwards traditionalist clients? Donald Trump:
Introduced at a party in 1998, one year after he had split from his second wife, Marla Maples, "I saw Melania and I said, 'Who is that?' " Trump recalls. "She was a very successful model. She was terrific. I tried to get her number, and she wouldn't give it to me."
He came to the party with a date!" Melania explains, laughing. "I had heard he was a ladies' man, and so I said, 'I'm not one of the ladies.' He said later that he sent her to the ladies' room so he could get my number. I was like, 'Oh what a sneaky way!' "
Still, Melania says she liked his "sparkle" and took his number. After returning from a modeling gig in the Caribbean, she called him, and on their first date, "we talked for almost the whole night," she says. 
Clearly when a man is attractive, women will pursue him and the man won't necessarily be turned off by being pursued. And if Lennon and McCartney are examples of "beta males" why would any woman want any other kind?

And it's not a stretch at all to make the connection between men with fragile masculinity issues and voting for Donald Trump. As this Atlantic article notes:
Standard commentary about Clinton’s candidacy—which focuses on her email server, the Benghazi attack, her oratorical deficiencies, her struggles with “authenticity”—doesn’t explain the intensity of this opposition. But the academic literature about how men respond to women who assume traditionally male roles does. And it is highly disturbing. 
Over the past few years, political scientists have suggested that, counterintuitively, Barack Obama’s election may have led to greater acceptance by whites of racist rhetoric. Something similar is now happening with gender. Hillary Clinton’s candidacy is sparking the kind of sexist backlash that decades of research would predict. If she becomes president, that backlash could convulse American politics for years to come. 
To understand this reaction, start with what social psychologists call “precarious manhood” theory. The theory posits that while womanhood is typically viewed as natural and permanent, manhood must be “earned and maintained.” Because it is won, it can also be lost. Scholars at the University of South Florida and the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign reported that when asked how someone might lose his manhood, college students rattled off social failures like “losing a job.” When asked how someone might lose her womanhood, by contrast, they mostly came up with physical examples like “a sex-change operation” or “having a hysterectomy.” 

Friday, September 09, 2016

Tiny little bitty theater world

And speaking of Ghostbusters - here is my friend Valerie (in the boots) hanging out with an improv group. Fans of the newest Ghostbusters will recognize the guy in the brown jacket as the villain in the movie - Neil Casey.

He also writes for SNL and Amy Schumer.

Thursday, September 08, 2016

Man-babies vs. Ghostbusters

I went and saw Ghostbusters again - this time I took my friend Valerie and she loved it too. It was released into theaters for the Labor Day weekend.

Which gave the misogynist man-babies a chance to scream all over again on the Ghostbusters Facebook page about how much they-hated-this-movie- and-it sucks-and-it's-a-bomb-and-only-PC-feminist-SJWs-like-it-and-nobody-else-should-watch-it-and-this-has-nothing-to-do-with-misogyny-because-I'm-married-to-a-woman!

Here are some comments from those philosopher-kings.

In spite of the enraged shrieks of man-babies, I didn't have much interest in seeing this movie until I saw some cool clips. But the fact that misogynists hate it makes it even better. And after reading these inane comments and then seeing this... I laughed so hard I couldn't breathe, so I stopped because I got worried I might die - and then I read it again and laughed again. This cycle continued for a good half hour.

I'm lucky I survived. So far.

This gif about murderous Ghostbusters almost killed me.

Wednesday, September 07, 2016

Backyard - another perspective

My upstairs neighbor shared a photo she took of our building's backyard, which she took in winter. You can see the pine tree on the right covered in snow. Such a shame it's gone.

Tuesday, September 06, 2016

They cut down his tree

I was awoken one morning recently to hear a loud persistent screeching coming from a blue jay behind my apartment building. I couldn't figure out why this blue jay would suddenly start screeching so loud like that.

And then I saw that the new neighbors who live on the bottom floor of my building had cut down the pine tree which had stood in the yard. It wasn't a large tree but it was fairly tall, as tall as my window on what is technically the third floor of the building. I miss it now it's gone. But this blue jay, who no doubt considered it his home, misses it much more.

And neither of us understands why the pine tree had to go away.

Monday, September 05, 2016

Horse Eats Hat

I recently stumbled on this striking if literal poster for a WPA Federal Theatre project written by Orson Wells and Edwin Denby, called HORSE EATS HAT. It was produced in 1936, and never again since then, going by the Playbill Vault.

I've never heard of this play before and so far have been unable to track down the script online.

Other than the fact that it has a huge cast, the play sounds like something Mac Wellman would write, based on the description in the NYTimes review, but in 1936 this approach to playwriting did not automatically merit the designation "genius."

The review, signed by "L.N." says:

…It was as though Gertrude Stein had dreamed a dream after a late supper of pickles and ice cream… As to what they were getting at, this corner wouldn’t know, but there has been nothing quite like it since Miss Stein’s trophy, “Four Saints in Three Acts,” a few artistic seasons ago... Probably it is bad, certainly it is not good in the usually accepted sense of the theatre... It has no beginning or end, and lacks rhyme and reason. It tells of a horse that eats a hat, and the owner of the horse must get the owner of the hat another hat because she can’t go home to her husband without it. Because - well, Edwin Denby and Orson Wells have adapted the play from a French farce, and French farces are what they are. They are so much so, in fact, that the WPA, in a throwaway leaflet, issues a sort of quit claim, pointing out that the original “has been studied in school.” It is, in other words, sturdy. On top of this framework, the authors have added various private flights of fancy: actors make speeches to the audience, actors falling over chairs, a fountain which sprays the cast, schemes that are early Joe Cook or late Rube Goldberg.

This one production had a cast of 22, including Mrs. Wells, Joseph Cotten, and Arlene Francis, whom I will always know as that lady on What's My Line.

They never mentioned this play in Tim Robbin's movie "Cradle Will Rock" which you can still watch for free - thank you socialism! - on Youtube.

Sunday, September 04, 2016

Penn Jillette vs. Oskar Eustis: Should government fund the arts?

I forget down what Internet rabbit hole I fell in order to end up reading about Penn Jillette, but I found him explaining how he became a Libertarian. Jillette wrote for Cato, reprinted in Newsweek:

There was a theater in Philadelphia called the Walnut Street Theatre—it’s still there—and upstairs at the Walnut Street Theatre was Theatre 5, which was a little tiny room that sat 100 people. And they had local grants, federal grants, just grants, grants, grants to put together little experimental theater shows in this 100-seat theater on the 5th floor of the Walnut Street Theatre.
They had all their money paid by the government, and they had to put up one new show, I think it was every six weeks. Teller and I, at this point, were street performers. 
We went out to Head House Square in Philadelphia, and I would do a 12-minute juggling show, and I would then pass the hat. I was a very, very successful street performer.
We had a dream of doing a full evening show indoors. We needed a place, and Teller had gone to college with one of the guys who had these grants. But we didn’t know they had grants—we thought they were the same as us, that they made money from ticket sales.
They said that they couldn’t get their show together (six weeks with nothing else to do and they couldn’t do a show? Shakespeare’s in the public domain!) so they said, “You can have our theater to put your show on—you’d only have to pay us a little bit of money, and you can have the whole space and do the whole show.” 
We were thrilled to pieces. Just thrilled to pieces! And we worked really hard (I mean, hard for show business.) We went out and did press releases and got reviews. And that 100-seat theater, when we were in there, was sold out for the whole six weeks.
Then the head of the Walnut Street Theatre found out that our show had been so successful—they’d never been successful in there at all—and came and talked to us. We didn’t know we were blowing the G on the joint—to use carny terms. We didn’t know we were giving up a secret, to use, I guess, regular-people terms.
He said, “How much of the grant money did you get?” And we said “Grant money? No, we just happened to have the theater — thank you so much, sir, we really appreciate it. It’s really helpful, you know, that small amount of rent we’re paying.” And he said, “Rent?!” I said, “This has been wonderful! We’re making our living, it’s going great.”
Well, anyway, they lost all their grants. And then there were all sorts of articles written on how Penn and Teller were destroying the arts in Philadelphia because we had lost the federal grants because we went and ratted out the people that were doing the real, important, significant work that we weren’t doing because we were “commercial.”
Then the 80s came around and there was all that controversy over a few artists— there was the Piss Christ art, and there was a New York artist named David Wojnarowicz. They did art that was very, very controversial, and very, very blasphemous. 
They lost some of their National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) grants, and I was then in a very awkward position. I was a freedom of speech nut, and I thought that they absolutely should have the right to do whatever art they wanted. 
But I was also remembering my Theatre 5 days in Philadelphia—and I didn’t think that the government should pay for them. And although I was—am—an atheist, my mom and dad were very strong Christians, and I was very close to them. 
And I had that image in my head of the gun. I looked at this art that I loved, that was so blasphemous to my mom and dad, and I was appalled by the idea that my mom and dad were having a gun held to their head to pay for art that I loved, but they didn’t.
And that to me was libertarianism in a nutshell. I wanted those artists to have their work everywhere. I wanted those artists to be very, very successful—but I did not want anyone that did not like that art to pay for it, and certainly not to be forced.
So when Wojnarowicz lost the grants from the NEA, I went over to his studio. He was a little surprised that I’d showed up there, because I’d been on TV a few days before saying that I didn’t think the NEA should exist at all, and he shouldn’t get any money whatsoever. I said, “I’d like to buy a lot of your work. I want to buy it because I really, really like it.”
So what Penn Jillette wants, essentially is a return to the days of patrons of the arts - people with money who could buy the work of artists, rather than artists being subsidized by the government.

I've long debated to myself whether or not government should fund the arts, in part because my art has never been the beneficiary of government largess. But if Penn Jillette is opposed to something political it tends to push me in favor. Jillette is not only a libertarian, he loves Ayn Rand. It's amusing to see Jillette go on about the evils of government power, when as I and others have pointed out, Rand herself had no problem with her Atlas Shrugged ubermensch using force whenever it suited them. I've been talking here for a couple of years about what an absurd, unedited, a-logical wreck Atlas Shrugged is.

Jillette loves Rand so much he says in this video he would have had sex with her.

It just so happens that I recently saw a video of Oskar Eustis giving a TED talk in which he points out that Tony Kushner's ANGELS IN AMERICA was developed over six years thanks to government grants.

I don't know if Penn Jillette is a fan of theater, although I assume not since his argument against the limitations of a six-week development period is to stick to producing Shakespeare plays. He prides himself on the fact that his magic show made money at the Walnut Street Theater. But what value is Jillette's work, ultimately? People will pay to see it, mainly in Las Vegas, as a break from gambling and drinking. But once Penn and Teller are gone, what is left? A few TV specials? Their show Bullshit? Does the entire body of work of Penn and Teller equal ANGELS IN AMERICA? I think not. And I suspect that future generations of intellectuals will agree with me. And future generations of  drunken gamblers won't care.

But without government subsidy, could ANGELS IN AMERICA have ever been created? Eustis, who worked with Kushner to develop the play says in the recording above:
The National Endowment for the Arts gave a grant to Tony, to an individual artist, to write this play. It's important to say that as often as possible: made possible by public support... 
Eustis goes on to argue against art as commodity.

Now if the development of ANGELS IN AMERICA was left entirely up to the market, it's unlikely to have ever been made -  I'm sure Jillette's strong Christian parents would approve of ANGELS no more than they'd approve of PISS CHRIST. And even I, an ex-Catholic liberal atheist, while I might not disapprove of ANGELS would not consider a play about AIDS - assuming that's all I knew about it - as something I could relate to.

Not everything that is chosen to be funded by the government is guaranteed to be a masterpiece like ANGELS. It would be strange if it was - Sturgeons law applies to government grant-produced art the way it does to everything else. But I think it's likely worth it to fund a bunch of crap in the hopes of eventually hitting on a masterpiece.

Leaving everything up to the market will only serve to limit the possibilities. I'm working on a production of my play about Marilyn Monroe. It has everything that the market likes - a story about a celebrity, a beautiful woman, in danger. It happens that I am genuinely interested in Monroe's story, especially when I read her own account of her stay at the Payne Whitney - I saw it would make a great play and I wanted to get it done before somebody else did it.

 But I also know that I have a better shot than usual of getting people to come out to see my play because of the subject. People perk up a little when I tell them my play is about Marilyn Monroe trapped in a psych ward, which doesn't happen when I tell them what DARK MARKET is about: "Alan Greenspan's devotion to the work of Ayn Rand and how that caused him as Chairman of the Federal Reserve to promote deregulation which led to the 2008 worldwide financial meltdown."

That's just not sexy - Penn Jillette's feelings about Ayn Rand notwithstanding. And it also requires six actors, which isn't huge by old time theater production standards, but NORMA JEANE requires two actors (maybe three I haven't decided yet) and has a simple, one-location set.

But not every play can be a two-hander about Marilyn Monroe. Do we as a society want to limit our arts to whatever is an easy sell?

And the irony is that ANGELS IN AMERICA is so hugely popular that if they ran it on Broadway now I guarantee it would make money. When they did an AIA revival in 2010 at the Signature Theater I tried to go see it, having fallen in love with the Mike Nichols directed version shown on HBO in 2003, but it was sold out on the first day - virtually the entire run. So it isn't like the public is paying only for work nobody wants to see - it's that work has to get past the public's skepticism first.

Jillette admits that his buying the work of David Wojnarowicz ended up being a good investment on his part. But the almighty market was unlikely to offer Penn Jillette the chance to buy David Wojnarowicz delightful blasphemy because it wouldn't have existed without the government funding.

I'm not sure exactly what if anything the government gets back directly from money-making projects it initially funded although it certainly gets repaid in the form of taxes paid from the jobs created - I'm sure Kushner pays his taxes at the top-most rate, and I'm sure he pays it without looking for tax dodges since he supports taxes in principle, as much as Jillette opposes them in principle. Although Kushner's income is high more because of his screenwriting career than as a playwright - but without his impressive, government-sponsored playwriting career Stephen Spielberg would not have heard of him.

I am not impressed by Penn Jillette as a thinker, he's not rigorous. But then his entire life is based on a career in which you fool people. Penn and Teller might not tell people they are doing actual mystical magic, but it's still about trickery. They made a pile of money doing it and now they don't want to pay high taxes on that income. And they don't have to present arguments to the people they disagree with - even people who would be pretty easy to argue against. As this Onion AV Club review notes about their show Bullshit:
The show is one-sided by design: P&T's field interviewers rarely confront their subjects with the evidence against them, preferring to let the crackpots ramble on so that Jillette's voiceover rejoinders can score points without inciting a real argument. 
One-sided arguments - a rigged situation in which Jillette can confidently predict the outcome. It's a great bubble of smug certainty that he lives in. As another fan once said of Rand:
She had certainty. This is what really attracted me emotionally to her that night. She was the first person I had ever met who projected it—she projected that what she knew was true, and that she was sure of it.
For the record, I'm sure Ayn Rand would have wanted to have sex with Jillette right back, especially if he kept telling her how great she was. 

Saturday, September 03, 2016

Another great Kushner interview

I agree with Tony Kushner about so much, although he seems to be fond of the Hegelian dialectic which I guess I should have known based on his fondness for Communism.

About half-way through he makes some very interesting observations about theater and democracy.

But Tony Kushner has been interviewed at length much more than I realized. It looks like this is going to be a series on this blog.

Friday, September 02, 2016

Treasures of Youtube

Aw man, how great is this? A 90-minute long recorded conversation with Tony Kushner and Rachel Maddow at Joe's Pub!

Thursday, September 01, 2016

Welcome to September

And not a moment too soon. I'm plenty sick of summer, my least favorite season and this one has been hotter than average. 

And if it's September 1st then that means that Autumn is only 21 days away - woo-hoo!!!

In other good news, it appears that the new Ghostbusters movie is back in theaters for the weekend! I am going to go and see it again, I love it. Hopefully I'll be able to take some people with me.

And The Greyness is here, right on schedule.