Sunday, December 30, 2007

"Peter and Jerry"

Wow.

If I wasn’t suffering so from a cold, I could go on and on about the amazing evening of theater that is Edward Albee’s “Peter and Jerry.” (Unfortunately, as I write these words, it is having its final performance at the Second Stage Theatre.)

Albee’s first produced play, “The Zoo Story” composes the second half of the evening. For the hour prior to intermission, Albee has written a new work designed to complement and set up the action that takes place in “The Zoo Story.”

Never having seen that previous work, I can’t say how I might have reacted to the new aspect of the work. In fact, I have the strong desire to step into a parallel universe where I can experience the night all over again, this time having first seen “The Zoo Story.” I must admit I felt a bit lost (and toyed with) during the first act. Peter (Bill Pullman) sits on a sofa in an Upper West Side apartment. His wife walks in. “We should talk,” she says. And they do. About nothing. About important things. About tragic things. About memories. About connection. About being alive. Being human.

But it’s not until the second act, when Peter has taken himself to Central Park to read on a bench and is confronted there by Jerry, a rather compelling (but obviously touched) semi-vagrant hustler who has a story he wants to tell to someone. And Peter is closest at hand.

For the next hour, Jerry entertains and harangues Peter, delving deeper into the latter’s psyche than any high-priced Manhattan therapist could ever do. The shocking and tragic denouement is still here, but with Albee’s new text, it has even more impact than I imagine “The Zoo Story” could ever have on its own.

A pity you won’t have the chance to see it, if for no other reason than to experience Dallas Robert’s absolutely staggering performance as Jerry. It is probably the single best individual performance I have seen on stage since Jefferson Mayes’s Tony-winning turn in “I Am My Own Wife.”

"Trumpery"

I shall be brief, mostly because the show has already closed. “Trumpery” is the story of a seminal moment in history: the publication of Darwin’s “On the Origin of Species,” in which he first presented his theory of evolution and natural selection – and thereby stirred up a hornet’s nest that buzzes still.

Michael Cristofer is stunning as the old man himself, as hesitant as his stammer to publish his theory until he receives an essay from a younger colleague who has stumbled upon the same conclusions about natural selection as the means of the transmutation of species. Darwin’s friends George Hooker and Thomas Huxley convince him that he must forgo reticence and publish his findings or risk losing his place in history.

Overall, the play is well-done: wonderfully-acted and staged (Santo Loquasto comes through once more with a lovely set), but a bit stodgily-directed. There are times when the play seems to spin its wheels.

"Cymbeline"

I wonder what the Bard himself would think, had it been him instead of me planted in the seventh row center of the Vivian Beaumont Theatre at Lincoln Center, watching this late romance of his being played out in its vast confines. Would he have loved the elements of spectacle enabled by the high fly spaces and hydraulics (not to mention budgets), or would he have felt something human and approachable was lost amid the amazing costumes sets and effects?

“Cymbeline” is one of Shakespeare’s least-produced plays, but it’s certainly not for lack of action. Love, betrayal, jealousy, intrigue – it’s all here. And though it’s beautifully-stage and acted with energy and intelligence (with special kudos to Martha Plimpton, John Pankow and Adam Dannheisser, less for the one-dimensional Phylicia Rashad), it left me feeling chilly and unsatisfied. (Though the glory of Shakespeare’s language still comes shining through.)

"November"

David Mamet’s latest, which takes place entirely within the Oval Office, is sort of a cross between his own “Wag The Dog” and “South Park,” resulting in an offspring that resembles a “Doonesbury”-like comic strip brought to life.

If you’re expecting Aaron Sorkin-like attempts at verisimilitude in recreating the inner workings of the halls of power, you’re on line for the wrong show. “November” is satirical farce, giving us a president of unprecedented venality and stupefying ignorance, combined with an unquenchable lust for power and money. With Nathan Lane as president Charles Smith, we get a glimpse of what the world might be like if crooked producer Max Bialystock were given the keys to the White House.

In lesser hands than Mamet’s, “November” could easily devolve into a cheap frat skit, taking potshots at easy political prey. But thanks to Mamet’s talents (he’s long been one of my favorite writers), “November” succeeds on two levels: it makes us laugh, and it makes us despair at the thought that the men and women who ascend to positions of power – though not nearly as funny as the characters here – are probably no less venal, and perhaps even more so.

The story takes place during the closing days of a presidential election. President Smith is way behind in the polls, and his party (he is never identified as either Republican of Democrat) has given up even trying to win. Smith is being encouraged to accept the coming defeat and slip off quietly into the sunset. His lawyer (Dylan Baker, showing brilliant comic chops) has to repeatedly remind Smith that the country hates him and wants him out of office as soon as possible. “Why?” Smith asks. “Because you fucked up everything you touched,” his henchman replies – to sustained applause from the audience at the Ethel Barrymore Theatre.

Unfortunately, Smith is so broke that his presidential library fund has only $4000, and he is advised that if he can’t win the election, he can at least sell a few pardons.

I won’t delve much deeper here, because Mamet is a great storyteller and there are several wonderful surprises in “November,” but I will tell you it involves the pardon of Thanksgiving turkeys, a lesbian speechwriter (a wonderful turn from Laurie Metcalf, best-known for her work on “Roseanne”), same-sex marriage, Indian casinos, rumors of Iranian missile strikes and lots and lots of swearing.

The show is in previews and could use a bit of tweaking, but overall it’s a wonderfully entertaining night of theater. If only I could get over the nagging thought that, despite its farcical nature, it’s much closer to the truth than any of us would wish it to be.

"Die Mommie Die!"

Families don’t come more dysfunctional than the Arden-Sussman clan, especially when they are headed by a matriarch like Angela Arden, a boozy, washed-up chanteuse and TV star whose skyrocketing career began to sputter, fizzle and eventually tumble back to Earth when her twin sister died under mysterious circumstances.

“Die Mommie Die!” was written by Charles Busch (writer of the excellent “Tale of the Allergist’s Wife”), and he takes the leading role of Angela Arden. Busch is one of the best drag artists currently working, but one has to like drag for this show to work. “Die Mommie Die!” is a melodrama featuring buckets of bitchiness, resentments and revenge, gay subplots, murderous children and trailerloads of trashy behavior. (Even though the story takes place in Beverly Hills.)

I’d seen two of Busch’s previous works, which I enjoyed much more. “Die Mommie Die!” (adapted from Busch’s film of the same name) however, is only for the diehard camp/drag fan.

Wednesday, December 26, 2007

"Is He Dead?"

It's one of those stories you'd expect in a movie -- a previously-unknown manuscript by a famous author is discovered years after his death. Except that's not the story of the play, it's the story of the discovery of the play. The play was written by Mark Twain in 1898, when he was 60 and broke. It was to have been produced at Bram Stoker's London theater, but the venue burned down and Twain stuck the play in a drawer, where it languished until 2002.

Adapted by David Ives, the play has been modernized somewhat (cut from three acts to two, and tightening the comic screws a bit), but it's still Twain's work, and has a very 19th century feel to it.

The setup is simple: a painter in 1840 France comes to the realization that his work will be worth far more if he has shuffled off his mortal coil. So with the help of a few friends, he fakes his death, and creates a fictional twin sister who handles his estate -- and the millions that come to it now that he is a celebrated (thanks to his demise) artist. Norbert Leo Butz (who was brilliant in "Dirty Rotten Scoundrels") is very funny here -- especially in drag as the twin sister, which is most of the show -- and is ably supported by a cast with serious comic chops.

Just remember that "Is He Dead?" is a very old-fashioned sort of play. There is lots of falling in love, mistaken identities, physical humor -- and very little plausability. It's broad and silly and ludicrous -- and loads of fun.

Tuesday, December 25, 2007

"Mary Poppins"

Disney does know how to churn them out. A visitor to New York can see not just "Mary Poppins," but also "The Lion King" and "The Little Mermaid." "Tarzan" and "Beauty and the Beast" closed relatively recently.

If you really need to have a dose of Disney, and nothing else will do, the production of "Mary Poppins" actually has quite a lot going for it. First of all, the show is based on one of Disney's best films ever. It features some of the best Disney songs: "Spoonful of Sugar," "Feed the Birds," "Chim-Chim-Cheree" and "Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious."

But in adapting "Mary Poppins" for the stage, Disney somehow managed to take a great story and make it both limp and leaden. Part of the problem is that the new songs written for the stage are mostly forgettable, and the producers are rushing too fast from one number to another to let the show find its own legs.

However, you can forgive a lot when the numbers they are rushing to are as impressively staged as they are here. "Mary Poppins" won just one Tony (it was nominated for seven), for Best Scenic Design, an award that is richly-deserved. The sets are indeed stunning. The Banks's house, the rooftops of London, the interiors of the bank and the area around St. Paul's Cathedral are grander than anything I think I have ever seen on stage. I won't spoil the surprises for you, but count on lots of big set pieces, efficient, elegant movement between scenes, and some amazing staging effects.

I didn't love the show, but I'd still recommend it, especially if you have kids -- or just want to be blown away yourself. It's a giant, loud, multi-colored ball of fun -- that unfortunately misses its mark too often.

Monday, December 24, 2007

"Doris to Darlene"

...to don't. Dull, dull, dull.

Christmas Eve, 2007


4:52 p.m. Time-Warner Center, Columbus Circle.

"The Seafarer"

Conor McPherson writes Irish ghost stories ("The Weir" "Shining City"), and his latest is no exception, though it is the first play of his I have seen. "The Seafarer" is set in an intensely shabby Dublin apartment where Sharky Harkin (played with delicious restraint by David Morse) has returned to his father's home after a chauffeuring job in Lahinch went wrong. Sharky is also trying to go on the wagon, as his drinking is preventing him from being a sailor.

Unfortunately, the Harkin household is not the most supportive place to get dry, especially on Christmas Eve. Patriarch Richard Sharkey has gone recently blind (could it be the illegal poteen he sometimes gets from one of the neighbors?), but that only means he has to rely on friends and family to bring him the prodigious amounts of whiskey and beer he downs each day. As Christmas Eve morning dawns, Sharky is cleaning up the mess from the previous night's bingeing by his elder brother and their friend Ivan (brilliant sloppiness from Conleth Hill). When Sharky is upstairs, Richard and Ivan scurry to find the dregs from any bottles that were left.

The story doesn't really kick into gear until another friend of the family, another (surprise!) alcoholic, Nicky (Sean Mahon), arrives with Mr. Lockhart (the menacing Ciaran Hinds) in tow. Mr. Lockhart, we soon learn, is Satan himself, come to collect the soul Sharky promised him many years ago.

But the story isn't really the draw here. The main reason to see "The Seafarer" is the crackling dialogue delivered by a truly world-class ensemble. Stage acting doesn't get a whole lot better than this.

Saturday, December 22, 2007

The Saturday Random Video

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1:00 p.m. Sixth Avenue. A flock of Grandfathers Frost. Grandfather Frost (Ded Moroz, or Дед Мороз in cyrillic) is Russia's Santa Claus, an old bearded guy who brings presents. Russia TV unleashed an army of them on midtown as a promotional stunt.

"The Receptionist"

Have her put you into voice mail.

The latest offering at Manhattan Theatre Club, producers of some of my favorite contemporary plays ("Doubt" "Wonder of the World" "Fuddy Meers" "The Tale of the Allergist's Wife" "Proof") wants to be a powerful metaphor on authority, and how our culture is allowing the horrific to become mundane.

But when a 70-minute show has you looking at your watch, you've got real problems.

"The Homecoming"

Ah, Pinter. The master of subtext. In other words, what's being said is only one level of what's really going on. In this production of Pinter's 1964 play, what is presented is a family of sociopaths who can (and this is the frightening thing about sociopaths) occasionally pass for ordinary people. Much of the dialogue is simple and plain, often redundant and delivered mostly with a flat affect - or at least a sense of ordinariness: this is the sort of thing people say all the time.

So when the deep resentments and tales of violent interludes are brought into the conversation, one is first tempted to dismiss them as lies or exaggerations. Surely no sane, ordinary person could speak of such things in such a cool, detached manner. This is how we discover that what seems like an everyday working class family who have lost their mum, is in fact a collection of unrestrained hooligans turned completely in on themselves and their own concerns.

The cast in this production is uniformly excellent. Raul Esparza, Michael McKean, James Frain and Gareth Saxe each acquit their roles with tremendous skill. But Ian McShane (star of perhaps my favorite television series of all time, "Deadwood") stands out for his ability to communicate the subtext of menace. It's hard to look away from him. That said, I don't think he would be nearly as effective without the balancing power of Eve Best's portrayal of Ruth. Best exhibits a kind of understated strength that shows that either a) she can handle this batch of sociopaths pretty well, thank you very much, or b) she's a bit of a sociopath herself.

If you dig Pinter, don't miss it. It's rare you will find such a talented cast in such a terrific production.

Friday, December 21, 2007

"Xanadu"

If, after the intellectual gymnastics required by "Rock 'n' Roll," the schoolboy attention required by "The Farnsworth Invention," or the menacing familial kerfuffles of "August: Osage County, you are looking for a giant bouffant of cotton candy as a sort of palate refresher, you couldn't do much better than "Xanadu." Yes, that "Xanadu," the Olivia Newton-John film that is widely-regarded as one of the worst movies ever made. Here's how Netflix describes it:

"Concerned about angst-ridden artist Sonny Malone (Michael Beck), Zeus dispatches winsome muse Kira (Olivia Newton-John) to Earth to inspire the painter. Kira hooks Sonny up with wealthy Danny McGuire (Gene Kelly) -- a musician Kira buoyed decades earlier -- and the trio revamps a vacant building into the world's coolest disco roller rink."

That's pretty much what happens onstage, except Kerry Butler plays the Olivia Newton-John role, Cheyenne Jackson steps into Michael Beck's role, and Tony Roberts fills in for Gene Kelly. All three have serious comic chops (especially Cheyenne Jackson) that, when combined with a smart script (filled with generation-crossing pop culture references) from Douglas Carter Beane ("The Little Dog Laughed" and "As Bees In Honey Drown), make for a 90-minute long smile plastered to the faces of everyone in the audience. That's not even taking into account the show-stealing antics of New York comediennes Jackie Hoffman and Mary Testa, who turn the ELO-penned "Evil Woman" into the highlight of the night.

It's silly, it's splashy, it has more mirror balls than all of downtown New York had in the late 70s -- but it's a helluva a good time.

Thursday, December 20, 2007

The Friday Random Video

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1:46 a.m. Times Square.

"August: Osage County"

In the years I have been doing these reports on my New York trips -- and especially the last four, when I began blogging them -- I have focused less on trying to write full reviews, and more on creating capsule reports to give you a flavor for the show and the information you need to decide for yourself whether you'd like to see the production.

Last night's production, however, was so rich, so multi-layered and so complex that any attempt on my part to make sense of it in a few hundred words is patently ridiculous. Apart from the fact that I lack the deep theatrical background (there's just too much of the classic theatrical canon I have never seen or read) to construct such a criticism, I'd need to see "August: Osage County" at least twice more to even begin to plumb the depths of familial relationships Tracy Letts has created in this landmark new play that many critics are predicting may become an American classic, standing proudly beside the best work of Eugene O'Neill, Tennessee Williams or Arthur Miller.

So let me just say this: go. Even if you can't make it to Broadway before this closes (which, unfortunately, will be sometime before September, when "Billy Elliot: The Musical" takes over the stage of the Imperial Theatre), see it when it comes to wherever you are.

It's not an uplifting evening: the family in question has myriad problems. Dad is a once-honored, now-failed poet who drinks. A lot. Mom pops pretty much anything that comes in pill form. Their three daughters are mostly estranged from each other (and their husbands and children) -- but they all come together when dad goes missing after the first scene.

Unlike Beckett or Pinter, where much of the real action happens in subtext, little is hidden here. All the vitriol is on full public display. All the nasty things one might think about a family member who has let you down or disappointed you or failed (in your mind) to take adequate account of your needs are spoken out loud here. Nothing is held back. (And in fact, reaches its peak when the eldest daughter tells mom to "Eat the fish, bitch.") At one point, four (I think -- might have been five) groups of family are in four different spaces of the big old house (in Todd Rosenthal's multi-tiered set), conducting four different simultaneous arguments. It's a fugue of dysfunction.

Fortunately, there's also quite a lot of humor happening here. (Plus the comforting fact that almost anyone can experience "August: Osage County" and say, "at least my family's not THAT bad.") It's a good sign, I think, that the producers have chosen to sell t-shirts featuring some of the show's best lines: "You have to be smart to be complicated." "All women look better with makeup." It gives you a sense that the show has plenty of good ones. And it does. Here are just a few of the many great lines that didn't make the t-shirt cut:

- "Do me the favor of knowing when I'm demeaning you."
- "Thank god we can't see the future -- we'd never get out of bed."
- "You never know when someone might need a kidney."
- "We fucked over the Indians for THIS?" (referring to Oklahoma)

And of course, the aforementioned "Eat the fish, bitch."

Over the course of three acts (and three hours), the story builds and gets more complex and more tragic, revealing surprises to almost the very last scene.

If you can go, "August: Osage County" is not to be missed.

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

"The Farnsworth Invention"

I'll confess this upfront. I'm an Aaron Sorkin fan. "The West Wing," at least until he left the show, was a show I hated to see end each week. I wanted to spend more time with those characters. I have no idea why his follow-up, "Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip" never found an audience. It was very smart and addressed big issues. Oops, guess THAT was why it never found an audience. "Sports Night" was also a terrific, but short-lived show.

So I stepped into The Music Box this afternoon fully prepared to enjoy the story of how David Sarnoff basically stole television from inventor Philo Farnsworth. And did.

Others -- you, for instance -- may not appreciate a certain lecture-y quality that seeps out from this densely (but elegantly)-packaged history lesson, seen through the eyes of two titans: Sarnoff, the Russian-born exiled Jew who created modern broadcasting, and Farnsworth, the Mormon farm boy who saw the key concepts necessary to making possible perhaps the most influential technological breakthrough of the 20th century. (Hank Azaria plays Sarnoff with unapologetic ambition, and Jimmi Simpson does good work as a simple genius, overwhelmed by powers far beyond his experience.)

But me? I love the quick repartee of Sorkin's characters, the efficiency of his exposition, the richness of his characters. It's not a great show, and it's not for everyone (and it probably won't survive long on Broadway), but it tells an amazing story -- and it's going to be the perfect thing for high school drama departments that need shows with big casts that shed light on important moments in history.

And no matter what opinion you may hold of the "vast wasteland" of "57 (or 557) channels and nothin ' on" that is broadcasting today, it's impossible to argue that the introduction of television marks a watershed in human history, and watching its birth pangs is pretty darn compelling.

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

"Rock 'n' Roll"

Tom Stoppard's newest has been getting mixed reviews. Critics mostly seem to like it (one said it is "arguably Stoppard's best play"), but audiences (at least those who care enough to post their opinions on discussion boards) are more skeptical. Getting a ticket is pretty easy, even at deep discounts.

After seeing the production tonight, I can see why. The play itself is terrific -- filled with Stoppard's wit delivered by characters that are passionate and fiery -- but with a certain British restraint. The story is rich and important. (And should probably be considered in tandem with Stoppard's "The Coast of Utopia" trilogy -- one being about the birth of communism, the other about its death.)

But this production, for many reasons, never lets the power and passion of the play's text really come through to the audience. The cast, though capable (and including Brian Cox, Sinead Cusack and Rufus Sewell), never come together as a true ensemble. The direction is flaccid and impotent, denying not only the passions of the characters, but the menace of totalitarianism that hangs over virtually every scene. We're supposed to be frightened by what Communists clinging to control are capable of -- but we aren't. And the staging (imported, I understand, almost entirely from the National Theatre production in London last year) doesn't seem to fit very well in the Jacobs Theatre. The balance seemed off.

On the positive side, I will say the of all the actors, Rufus Sewell brought the most to his role. (Good thing, too, since his Jan is the heart and soul of "Rock 'n' Roll" -- the idealist who loves the freedom and mad release rock music delivers.)

By the second act, though, I was able to put the production's shortcomings into the background and let the power of Stoppard's words do the work he intended them to do. I loved the arguments about the nature of consciousness and the mind-body (or rather mind-brain) duality.

From what I read, there are many other plays coming up this trip that I will likely recommend more, but if you are a fan of Stoppard's on any level, I don't think "Rock 'n' Roll" is a play you should miss.

The Tuesday Random Video

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The R train. Rush hour. Midtown.

Monday, December 17, 2007

At the Mercy of New York

Sometimes a plan does NOT come together. At the end of our first day in New York, our plan had been to have dinner at a swanky restaurant downtown. Specifically, Eleven Madison Park, which had once been a good but relatively straightforward place that served what many call "New American" cuisine. With the addition of a new chef a year or so ago, it has become much, well, swankier. Prix fixe only, no a la carte items. Oh, just check out the menu yourself if you like. (Do note that on an $82 for three courses of $102 for four course menu, you can still pay a little more if you're in the mood for, say, alba truffle risotto and have $120 you don't want anymore.)

So we dressed as swankily as possible, given our limited travel wardrobes. I bring options, but even I have limits. (Actually, it's United Airlines' baggage limits that are really holding me back.) As we climbed the stairs after riding the 6 train to 23rd street, and popped up into the cold night air, my cell phone got back in touch with the mothership and informed me, just as I was stepping into the restaurant and undoing the buttons on my overcoat, that I had new messages. One of the friends meeting us had had a asthma attack and they were so sorry, but they would have to cancel.

Although he was disappointed at not seeing our friends, Bob was nonetheless relieved that we could now go somewhere else for dinner. Personally, I am a fan of cuisine as theater, and love a multi-course tasting menu and artistic presentations and amuse-bouches and that sort of thing. He lives by the rule of "horizontal cuisine": if the food on the plate is taller than it is wide, it's not for him.

So we left EMP, and wandered over to Union Square Cafe. 90 minutes for a table. I scouted a place the maitre d' at Union Square Cafe had recommended, but it didn't seem sufficiently horizontal enough to please Bob, so we headed over to Gramercy Tavern, one of New York's most popular (and best) restaurants. The wait for a seat in the bar area was an hour or more, but we added our name to the list and asked the maitre d' for his recommendations. His first choice, craftbar, a Tom Colicchio restaurant was around the corner and, as I found on another scouting exhibition, had a table for us.

What they didn't have was service for us. After an hour at the table, we had been served a bowl of soup. With no entrees in sight (despite two promises from our server that "it's being plated right now"), we got up, retrieved our coats and went back to Gramercy -- where our name had just reached the top of the list.

Best Pasta Dish Ever?

Ravioli con Il Cacio e Pere -- pear and fresh pecorino-filled ravioli, aged pecorino, crushed black pepper. At Felidia, the restaurant of Lidia Bastianich. Amazing.

Sometimes...


...cute puppies are what you need to warm you on a cold day.

From a pet store window in Manhattan's upper east side.

Sunday, December 16, 2007

Misguided Bromide


Whoever coined this little bit of wisdom has a very shallow grasp of astronomy.

The Journey Has Begun

Greetings from San Francisco International! The semi-annual New York City "fill-the-well" trip begins today. Over the next two weeks you will be able to access daily reports on my experiences in the capital of the world as I soak up the riches of Manhattan until I am sopping with creative juice. There will be reports on the dozen and a half shows I plan to see, as well as the occasional random thought and/or image.

Glad you are along for the ride.

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

A Simple Question


Mike Huckabee, it is reported, has apologized to Mitt Romney for comments he made about the Mormon faith in an extended interview with the New York Times. In this piece, Huckabee explains the context of his remarks.

Here's what happened. The reporter asked Huckabee if he thought Mormonism was a religion or a cult. Huckabee reportedly responded that he thought it was a religion, but that he didn't know that much about it. Then he asks, "Don't Mormons believe that Jesus and the Devil are brothers?" An innocent enough question, it would seem, given that the answer is, in fact, "yes."

But apparently it was enough to set off the press, who wondered if it was truly an innocent question, or a politically-motivated attempt to focus attention on the perceived strangeness of Romney's faith. Huckabee felt obligated to apologize to Romney when they met on stage at yesterday's Republican debate, even though Huckabee claims he was genuinely curious and never meant to draw Romney's faith - or any theological issues - into the campaign.

Just for argument's sake, let's say Mike is being sincere. Though I disagree strongly with his beliefs, I do believe he holds them sincerely, so I'll give him the benefit of the doubt on this one. I do this partly because it sheds light on a statement Huckabee made on "Larry King Live": "I'm trying to stay away from everything I can say. I'm being much more cautious now, because everything is being parsed."

It would seem Huckabee is beginning to notice how differently a presidential frontrunner is treated. He realizes- to a greater degree than ever - that part of the election process is surviving media scrutiny. The person who can handle knowing that every time they are in a public setting, virtually EVERYTHING they say and do is being recorded by someone. Probably several someones.

Huckabee's response? To pull back more, to say less. As Iowans endure/enjoy these final three weeks of personal attention on a national scale, Huckabee is going to be choosing his words very carefully.

But if part of what makes Mike Huckabee appealing is his seeming open and genuine nature, too much self-editing could put him at risk of losing some of that appeal.

So Mike...if you were truly being sincere, don't apologize for it. You didn't shower him with invective or call his faith ridiculous, or otherwise behave in a manner that might actually warrant an apology. You asked a simple question.

Which leads me to a simple question of my own: If you had to apologize because Romney's religion - or ANY issue of theology - is considered out of bounds in the electoral process, I want to know why.

I imagine your (and especially Governor Romney's) answer would be something along the lines of "because the Constitution dictates there is to be no religious test for the office of president. Not to mention the First Amendment."

But here's where this goes wrong for me. If religion isn't to be used as a lever in a presidential election, shouldn't it be equally out of bounds to call upon its "support" in referenda issues like one-man/one-woman marriage amendments? Our Constitution guarantees the freedom to practice whatever faith we choose, and that no state church may be established. It follows, therefore, that one religion or sect's beliefs cannot be allowed to trump any other's in the realm of civil polity.

Thus could I sing, and thus rejoice, but it is not so with me.

Same-sex Marriage=Global Strife?

According the Pope Benedict (who occasionally makes sense), same-sex marriage is a threat to world peace because "Everything that serves to weaken the family based on the marriage of a man and woman, everything that directly or indirectly stands in the way of its openness to the responsible acceptance of new life ... constitutes an objective obstacle on the road to peace."

Here's the problem. There's no proof of any sort that same-sex marriage weakens one-man, one-woman marriage. None. I would argue that greater acceptance of same-sex unions will actually strengthen not only traditional marriage (by reducing the motivation for those who use marriage to reinforce their closet doors), but our society as a whole by reinforcing the stability that comes from couplehood.

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Time to shut up about Huckabee?

According to the Drudge Report, the Democrats have decided not to attack Mike Huckabee for his comments about quarantining HIV patients, believing Adam and Eve were two actual people, that God has been helping him in the polls, etc. Why? Because they feel he is so vulnerable on these points that he would be easy to take down in the general election. Apparently they'd love to see him win the nomination so they can crush him in November. I'm not entirely sure. "Do you want a president who believes the Earth is only 6000 years old?" is a question that seems likely to alienate people with even lightly-held religious beliefs.

Crazier Than You Think

As Mike Huckabee rises in the polls, he might have a hard time distancing himself from some of his past statements. Especially those where he tries to walk the line between his supposed faith and his political ambition. This one, for example:

"Interestingly enough, if there was ever an occasion for someone to have argued against the death penalty, I think Jesus could have done so on the cross and said, "This is an unjust punishment and I deserve clemency.""

That's from 1997, when Huckabee was governor of Arkansas, answering a question about capital punishment during a call-in radio show. Apparently, Huckabee's point was that since Jesus didn't say that, the New Testament therefore endorses the death penalty. Did he ever read the rest of the NT? Does he seriously think Christ would be standing with W on this issue?

Sunday, December 09, 2007

Watching Ourselves

Here's a brief description of some very interesting research that shows humans tend to be more altruistic when either God or the broader community is on their minds.

Saturday, December 08, 2007

An Excellent Post on Torture

From the redoubtable Andrew Sullivan. Money quote: "If they are cynical and brazen enough to destroy incriminating tapes, they are cynical and brazen enough to destroy any evidence within the executive branch that could prove that their torture policy has failed. If this isn't a form of tyranny, annexed to torture, what is? And if the executive branch can simply get away with it, and have serious commentators defend the president's trashing of the Constitution as necessary to fulfill his oath of office, we really have left the rule of law behind in the ditch."

Friday, December 07, 2007

It Is Happening Again

News of a recent poll showing Arkansas governor Mike Huckabee moving into second place in the race for the Republican presidential nomination (nationwide, not just in Iowa) have me very worried.

Why? Because his image is that of a very pleasant, likable guy with a deep Christian faith that informs his politics. Remind you of anyone? (As TV's Craig Ferguson would say.) I see far too much George Bush in Mike Huckabee for my liking. His reliance on faith is troubling -- not because he calls on it for personal spiritual support, but because it informs his policy decisions. As he says on his web site: "My faith doesn't influence my decisions, it drives them. I don't separate my faith from my personal and professional lives." So how is a man who believes in biblical inerrancy and doesn't believe in evolution, preferring instead to hold the view that dinosaurs and man walked the earth together, going to lead the scientific efforts required to advance our society? How can a man who believes that allowing same-sex civil unions will lead to the end of civilization be expected to protect the civil rights that are at the core of this country's greatness. The right is having a wonderful time talking about how the founders were men of faith and built a country based on their faith. But when it came time to write the Declaration of Independence, the FIRST self-evident truth was that "all men are created equal." What happened to that?

Huckabee scares me because he has the support of that rabid 20-25% base of delusional evangelicals, people who will vote for him no matter what, as long as he keeps up the bible-thumping -- plus the support of people who just think he's a nice guy. This man could win, and America could spiral down even further into irrational policies based on a childish faith in an unseen being. We must call our own OWN power to save us -- not some imaginary god.

My Thoughts Exactly, 3

Have a gander at this piece from Salon, discussing how Mitt Romney's protestations of religious tolerance are misplaced, and that it is actually the secularists he attacks who are far more tolerant of religious diversity.

Money quote: "If Romney is going to attack humanists and secularists as "wrong," then let him explain why they were so far ahead of his church on the greatest moral issues of the past half-century."

Thursday, December 06, 2007

"You Don't Want This"

I don't know if you saw "Ray," the biopic of Ray Charles's life and music, but there's a scene where Ray stumbles upon some of his band members shooting heroin. Ray expresses curiosity, the bandmates try to talk him out of it, but Ray insists - and subsequently ends up addicted.

Here's the comic take on that scene, from the new film "Walk Hard: The Dewey Cox Story." Like all good comedy, it's funny because it's true.

The Unclosing Eye

Of perfectionism.

Guilty as charged.

Sunday, December 02, 2007

Line of the Year


"My penis was clearly in his mouth." (Sorry if I shocked you, Mom.) The mouth in question belongs to Larry Craig. The penis is the property of Mike Jones. Yes, that Mike Jones, the Denver area rent boy who was responsible for the outing of Rev. Ted Haggard. The Idaho Statesman published a story today featuring interviews with five men (four of whom are willing to be publicly identified) describing flirtations, advances and full-on sexual encounters with Senator Larry Craig. (Who, remember, is still serving the citizens of Idaho, still voting.) The best feature is the sound files of excerpts from the reporter's interviews.

The Race is On

I don't know about you, but the 2008 presidential race is the most exciting election I've ever seen. With the level of media involvement and big money being thrown around, you'd think the nominations would already be in the bag. Just a month or so ago, Hillary was seen as a shoo-in for the Democratic nomination, and Rudy was the presumptive favorite to get the Republican's nod.

Then, over the past weeks, both frontrunners have begun to slip. Hillary, after her weak performance at the most recent Democratic debate, has slowly slipped in polls in both Iowa and New Hampshire. And Rudy has been losing ground to Mitt Romney and Mike Huckabee. Romney matches Giuliani in the "I have managerial experience" category that Americans seem to want after experiencing eight years of the gang that couldn't govern straight, but he has the positions on social issues required to win over evangelical voters. Huckabee seems like a sincere, honest, Christian guy -- qualities voters don't see in the former New York mayor. (Though he might have a bit of a hard time justifying the fact that he doesn't believe in evolution, but we'll have to wait and see how that plays.)

In a poll out today, the lead in Iowa -- with only about a month until the caucuses -- now belongs to Barack Obama and Mike Huckabee. Huckabee's rise is especially interesting, given that he is spending only a fraction of the money Romney and Giuliani are putting out in the Hawkeye State.

So what happens if Obama and Huckabee take Iowa? Can they extend their popularity into New Hampshire -- a much different state, with a much different nominating process (actual voting, vs. a series of caucuses)? My hunch is they can take Iowa, but they lose in New Hampshire, where Hillary holds on (but barely) and Romney wins the Republican race. Romney then takes Michigan and Nevada, Huckabee picks up South Carolina -- but we still don't know the nominee until Super Tuesday, February 5, when 20 states hold their primaries, including California, New York, New Jersey and Illinois, where Giuliani could do some catching up.

On the dems side, I don't see Hillary getting the nod now. Her negatives are just too high. On the other hand, I'm not sure America is ready to elect a black man whose name rhymes with Osama and whose father was Muslim. Obama takes Iowa, Nevada and South Carolina, but loses New Hampshire to Hillary or Edwards. On Super Tuesday, the battle begins. HRC pulls down New York and New Jersey, but Edwards brings home Florida, while Obama pulls down California. And we still don't have a nominee and Dems wait until the convention to choose a candidate.

Meanwhile, if Romney wins Super Tuesday, the Republican race is settled. But if Giuliani wins big in February, the evangelicals go crazy because of his stands on abortion and gay rights. (Only the craziest of the crazy evangelicals worry about Romney's religion, though.) That means an independent candidate could step in and break the whole race wide open.

If Bloomberg steps up, he pulls the moderate Republicans away from Romney. (If Giuliani wins, Bloomberg stays home.) But he also pulls conservative Democrats who just can't get behind voting for an African-American because, well, because they just can't.

Keep watching.

Saturday, December 01, 2007

Good Point


From Pope Benedict XVI's most recent encyclical: "How did we come to conceive the Christian project as a selfish search for salvation which rejects the idea of serving others?"

Of course, he also attacks atheism as being the source of the "greatest forms of cruelty and violations of justice" in history. Gee, worse than the Crusades, or the Inquisition or clerical sexual abuse, or slavery, or terrorism? Or even the use of an unseen omnipotence to justify the denial of basic human rights right here in America? I think not.

More on the new encyclical can be found here. You can read the full text here.

The Future in Your Pocket, The Past in Your Mind

A while back, a rumor made the rounds in Khartoum, Sudan -- the same place where an English pre-school teacher has been arrested (and crowds bay for her execution) because she allowed her three and four-year old charges to name the class teddy bear "Muhammed" -- that if a man shook the hand of an infidel, his penis would fall off. The rumor spread via cell phone and text messaging. Apparently, many men took the rumor seriously. But what is amazing is that confluence of modernity and superstition. The rumor spreads via a wonder of science and technology -- yet the men who fell for this bit of ridiculous folklore simply couldn't reconcile the facts of science (even though the proof of its efficacy was right there in their hands) with their ancient xenophobic mindset.

Doesn't bode well for the future we all need to share.

Friday, November 30, 2007

The Wingnut is at it Again


Check out this little beauty from Pat Robertson. I'd think Christ might be more pleased if they expended this effort ministering to the poor and the homeless and the imprisoned.

Making Way


When faced with overwhelming power, the powerless learn to adapt.

The footage is from a marketplace in Bangkok.

Sunday, November 25, 2007

"I'm Not There"


I can't say I understand it completely. I can't say that it is going to achieve any sort of commercial success. I can't even say that critics love it. Most do, but one of my favorite critics (Anthony Lane of the New Yorker) and one of my least favorite critics (Mick LaSalle of the San Francisco Chronicle) both disliked it. What I CAN say about "I'm Not There," Todd Haynes's new film "based on the music and many lives of Bob Dylan" is that not once during its two-hour, 15-minute running time did I ever want to look away from the screen. It is the most artful film I have seen in many, many years.

Be warned -- if you are looking for a faithful biography of Bob Dylan, this is not the movie for you. Many reviews I have read seem to feel the film presents different stages of Dylan's life, represented by the six different actors (including the luminous Cate Blanchett) who play Dylan. The truth is, these actors represent different aspects of Dylan's character as much as they represent stages of his life. He is seen in youth as an African-American boy (inhabited by the prodigiously precocious Marcus Carl Franklin) named Woody. (None of the Dylan characters in the film are actually named "Bob Dylan.") I'm not familiar with the details of Dylan's life as a child, but I'm pretty sure it didn't involve riding the rails as a pre-adolescent with a guitar whose case read "this machine kills fascists." Yet, these sequences still have a powerful ring of truth. They set-up the young Dylan as someone obsessed with his mission in life, his dreams and his goals, while grounding these aspirations with the sense of otherness Dylan must have felt, both as an artist and as a Jew in mid-century Minnesota.

The film jumps back and forth through time, skimming in and out of dreamy fantasies and hard-edged reality. We see Dylan the rebel, Dylan the dreamer, Dylan the outlaw, Dylan the petulant artist, Dylan the provocateur and Dylan the sage. And still we feel we have only scratched the first level or two of veneer.

Look for "I'm Not There" to score several Oscar nominations, including Best Picture, Best Director, Best Art Direction, Best Supporting Actress, Best Editing and perhaps even Best Screenplay. It will deserve them all. Every frame is filled with art. It's not a movie for everyone, but "I'm Not There" is easily the most impressive film achievement of the year.

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

How to Cover

With the resignation of Florida's Bob Allen, following his conviction on charges of soliciting sex for money in a public restroom, I have a suggestion for other closeted Republican lawmakers. (This should increase the blog readership, as there seems to be NO END of those!) Bob Allen, Larry Craig, Mark Foley, et al. all had horrendous records in terms of voting on gay rights issues. Their overcompensation didn't seem to keep the truth from getting out. In fact, given the events of the past year, I think the wise course of action for a closeted Republican would be to come out in favor of gay rights issues. Co-sponsor ENDA. Be grand marshall of the West Hollywood pride parade. Sponsor a constitutional amendment establishing same-sex marriage. That'll throw 'em off the scent.

The Real Straight Talk Express...


...is being driven by Joe Biden. Read this interview with the man. He's saying stuff that seems smart and solid and rational. Unfortunately, it reads like someone who believes he can't win the nomination, and therefore feels like he can really speak his mind. Look at some his responses in the most recent debate. He was among the most relaxed candidates on the stage, willing to joke in an off-the-cuff, non-scripted, non-focus group tested way.

This is a man who, in my opinion, has the best qualifications to lead this country -- but has almost no chance at getting the opportunity to do so. But I can hope. And donate. (Which I did.)

Sunday, November 18, 2007

Why the Internet was Invented, part 2


To discover secrets we never knew existed. Click here.

Barack's Inner Dick

In his Sunday op-ed piece, Thomas Friedman suggests an approach to the Iran problem that marries the "let's talk" approach of Barack Obama with the "let's rumble" approach of Dick Cheney.

Money quote: "But Mr. Obama’s stress on engaging Iran, while a useful antidote to the Bush boycott policy, is not sufficient. Mr. Obama evinces little feel for generating the leverage you’d need to make such diplomacy work. When negotiating with murderous regimes like Iran’s or Syria’s, you want Tony Soprano by your side, not Big Bird. Mr. Obama’s gift for outreach would be so much more effective with a Dick Cheney standing over his right shoulder, quietly pounding a baseball bat into his palm."

Friday, November 16, 2007

Yo Ho, Yo Ho...

...a pirate's death for me!

Friedman Making Sense. Again.

I missed this column of 11/14 from Thomas Friedman. Don't you miss it. Money quote:

"REPUBLICAN CANDIDATE: “My Democratic opponent, true to form, wants to raise your taxes. Yes, now he wants to raise your taxes at the gasoline pump by $1 a gallon. Another tax-and-spend liberal who wants to get into your pocket.”

DEMOCRATIC CANDIDATE: “Yes, my opponent is right. I do favor a gasoline tax phased in over 12 months. But let’s get one thing straight: My opponent and I are both for a tax. I just prefer that my taxes go to the U.S. Treasury, and he’s ready to see his go to the Russian, Venezuelan, Saudi and Iranian treasuries. His tax finances people who hate us. Mine would offset some of our payroll taxes, pay down our deficit, strengthen our dollar, stimulate energy efficiency and shore up Social Security. It’s called win-win-win-win-win for America. My opponent’s strategy is sit back, let the market work and watch America lose-lose-lose-lose-lose.”

If you can’t win that debate, you don’t belong in politics."

No Need to Yell "Fore!"

...as these pants...

...will do a much more effective job of announcing your presence to the foursome in front of you.

More options at Loudmouth Golf.

Thursday, November 15, 2007

Bob Allen is Convicted, Sentenced

Florida state representative Bob Allen (whose men's room troubles preceded Larry Craig's by several months, and documented by this blog here) was convicted last week and today was sentenced to six months probation and a $250 fine, plus $245 restitution for police costs. One of the conditions of his sentencing included a provision that he never enter the park where the offense took place. So he'll have to scratch that tea room off his list. But there must be non-stops from Miami to Minneapolis -- the men's room is hopping there.

Sunday, November 11, 2007

Say It, Frank

A blistering opinion piece from Frank Rich in today's New York Times.

Money quote: "Americans know that the ideals that once set our nation apart from the world have been vandalized, and no matter which party they belong to, they do not see a restoration anytime soon."

Thursday, November 08, 2007

A New Low Round


Today, after two weeks of an intense work project, I was able to get back out on the golf course. I went with a fresh attitude: I wasn't going to get upset at bad shots. After all, golf isn't my living, and stressing out over a poor swing wasn't going to make the next one any better.

So I stepped onto the first tee at the Marriott Desert Springs Valley course with no expectations. (And, as it turned out, no warm-up. My original tee time was 1:30, and I'd never be able to complete the round before dark, so I got to the course early and asked if I and my playing partner could get out any earlier. "Only spot I have for two is going out right now." So now was when we went.")

On the first hole, I hit an acceptable tee shot, a weak fade, but in the fairway. After a pulled second shot, I hit a chip to four feet and sank the putt for an opening par.

Hole number two I striped my drive straight down the middle, but pulled my approach again, chipped not quite as well and two-putted for a bogey.

Number three was a par five. A decent drive and second shot, but my approach went right, and I chipped and two-putted for another bogey.

Bogey on number four. My drive was good, but didn't quite carry over some rough. My second shot came up just short, but I stubbed my chip. Chipped again and one-putted.

On number five I got back on the par train with a solid drive, a solid 6-iron pin high and two putts for par.

Number six was a par three over water. Solid three-wood pin high and two putts.

On number seven, my 3-wood off the tee was a little left, but I was still only 120 yards out. Unfortunately, I mis-hit my 9-iron into the lake and ended up with double bogey.

Number eight is a par three over water. Hit my hybrid pin high but right, though I was able to make a nice up-and-down for par.

On the ninth, I pulled my drive left and had a terrible lie above a bunker. It was a pretty severe uphill lie and the ball was sitting down, and I had a sketchy stance. Fortunately, I got solid contact with a 3-wood and advanced the ball to 110 out. (That was probably my best shot of the round.) Hit a 9-iron pin high and two-putted for par, closing out the front nine with a 41.

Started the back nine with a solid drive and a good 3-wood. From 70 yards out, I hit a solid half-wedge to four-and-a-half feet. Unfortunately, I couldn't convert the birdie putt and settled for par.

On 11, I made par, thanks to a good pitch and a one-putt.

Bogeyed the par-three 12th. I was on the green in regulation, but made a very weak first putt and it took me two more to get down.

On the next hole I let my drive drift right, but got lucky with a 7-iron and was on the green in regulation, about 12 feet away. Made the putt for birdie!

Parred 14. Bogeyed 15. Par on 16. Par on 17.

At this point, I was pretty sure I was on my way to a new low round. I didn't know that if I even made bogey I would break 80! My drive was a bit of a flare, but I was still in the fairway, about 170 yards from the green. By this time, darkness was falling, and I was worried about the fading light. That's no excuse, however, for the shots that followed. I'm not sure if I pulled the shot, or if my alignment was off, but the ball flew high and far -- right into the pond left of the green. Dropped and left my wedge a touch short, leaving the ball on the fringe of the green. A chip and two putts meant a triple bogey seven. Still, my back nine score was a 40, for a total of 81, besting my previous low of 82.

Granted, I played the round from the white tees, so the course played only 6023 yards, but I'm still quite pleased. Breaking 80 is next!

Two Movie Recommendations


Hit one of my favorite theaters last night, the Camelot in Palm Springs and caught two new movies, both well worth seeing.

The first, "For the Bible Tells Me So," is a documentary looking at the effects of religion on the lives of a variety of families with a gay child. The Rev. Gene Robinson, the new Episcopal bishop of New Hampshire (whose consecration caused an uproar that is still resonating), and his parents are profiled, as are Chrissy Gephardt and her family, but the other families are not ordinarily in the public eye. Though each story has its own unique elements, the basic narrative is the same in each -- a family of faith is shocked and/or disgusted when one of their children comes out to them (one when he was just 16, most while in their 20s, but Gene Robinson waited until his 50s to break the news), and after a period of challenge, comes to some sense of resolution. Not always acceptance, but at least resolution, except for one tragic instance.

Intercut with these stories are interviews with a variety of clergy, as well as footage from many right-wing types, including Pat Robertson and Jimmy Swaggert, and a very clear and concise cartoon explanation on the causes of homosexuality.

Though the film definitely has an agenda, it is remarkably even-handed and fair-minded. (As opposed to, say, the films of Michael Moore.) Should be required viewing for every parent.

The second feature was Ang Lee's newest, "Lust, Caution." Set in China during the Japanese occupation of WWII, the movies tells the story of a group of student actors who become resistance activists. Gorgeous photography, wonderful performances, but best of all a very strong, compelling story. Go see. (But be warned, the sex scenes are quite realistic and relatively graphic.)

Tuesday, November 06, 2007

Have you heard any of these stories?

Over the past few weeks, I have heard or read of several stories like these:

No photography.

Honest mistake=six weeks' detention--so far.

Not born in the USA.

Apparently we can't get the rest of the world to hate us enough by what we do over there that we have to treat them like shit when they come HERE.

Friday, November 02, 2007

Find Your Match

Ran across an interesting new online service. Glassbooth.org asks you first to assign points to the political issues that interest you most, then to rate your support or opposition of certain positions. The site will then show you which presidential candidate's positions most closely match yours. What's cool is that you can then drill down into each position, and Glassbooth gives you backup quotes from the candidate to show what they have said about each position.

Wednesday, October 31, 2007

It Has Already Happened. Again.

A chilling story in this month's Esquire magazine, recounting the story of two former Bush administration officials who were part of a diplomatic process in which Iran was making major concession to resolve MIddle East issues -- concessions the adminstration rebuffed.

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

License and registration, please

One of the bigger dustups tonight centered around an answer by Hilary Clinton as to whether she supported NY Governor Eliot Spitzer's plan to issue driver's licenses to undocumented workers. The brouhaha is not so much about her answer, but as to whether she was caught saying two different things on the same issue, but that's neither here nor there. Chris Dodd was especially clear in his opposition, saying driving was a privilege.

But if part of the problem of illegal workers is that they are undocumented, giving them driver's licenses is a step in the right direction, documentation-wise.

Yum.


Now all I need is the $15-25 million.

Tear Down the Ghetto Walls

In the post-Stonewall era, the gay community has made enormous strides. From a time when our sexuality had to be hidden because it was not only socially unacceptable but also illegal to now, when gay people are highly visible (Ellen, Barney Frank, David Geffen, Philip Johnson -- just to name four people at or near the peak of their respective professions), the Supreme Court has struck down antiquated sodomy laws as unconstitutional, and we can get married (at least in Massachusetts), the gay community has come farther in the past 40 years than any of us might have imagined.

Granted, we still have a long way to go toward achieving civil equality. (Social equality may never come, but we'll have to live with that.) The military in this country still prohibits gay people from serving openly. There are dozens of states where we can be fired or denied housing simply because of our sexuality. Most states in the union have passed constitutional amendments defining marriage as being solely the territory of heterosexual couples.

With the changes we have gone through, something has changed about our community. The ghettos (I use that term not in a perjorative sense) are disappearing. Where we once needed the Castro and Chelsea and Provincetown and West Hollywood as safe enclaves, the greater visibility we have gained since 1969 has shown the straight world that we are everywhere, and that we have valuable contributions to make as citizens.

As usual, of course, Andrew Sullivan has said it better than I can.

But I will say that I think this is a good thing. My partner and I are planning our first ever cruise. (At least it's MY first ever cruise.) Many people have asked if we are going on a gay cruise. The answer is no, and the reason is two-fold. First, gay cruises are overpriced. Second, ghetto walls can only be torn down from the inside. The more we separate ourselves from the rest of society, the less that broader society feel our presence. Yes, it would be nice to be able to hold hands on deck without thinking that the Kansas families on the Lido deck are staring at us -- but if the Thompsons from Topeka never see a gay couple that doesn't look like the flamboyant types the media point their cameras at during Pride parades, how are they going to learn exactly what it is they are being asked to tolerate.

The New York Times had a story in today's issue on this same basic topic.

Monday, October 29, 2007

Count the Laterals


And you thought the Stanford-Cal final in 1982 was the craziest play you ever saw. To that I say, "ha!" Check this out.

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Out and Moving On

Click here to find an interesting blog post by Glenn Greenwald about an out candidate for Senate in North Carolina.

Saturday, October 20, 2007

Dumbledore is Gay!

According to J.K. Rowling (who now has more money than God, but not quite as much as Oprah), her character Albus Dumbledore, the headmaster of Hogwart's School of Witchcraft and Wizardy is gay. Of course, anyone who'd been watching closely already knew this: if the fact that he never mentioned (or seemed at all interested in) women, and seemed to have a boyhood crush on rival wizard Gellert Grindelwald, the robes would be a dead giveaway.

I'm waiting for the Christianists to start their usual hissy, this time bemoaning how awful it is for children to hear that the kindly leader, the wizard who fought ceaselessly against evil, is a pooftah. I wouldn't be suprised to hear some go on about the tragedy of a gay man being in charge of children -- even fictional ones.

Monday, October 15, 2007

"One thing in common...they got the fire down below..."


First it was Jesus in the tortilla, now it's the pope in the bonfire. Some believers have latched on to the photo above left as evidence that the late Pope John Paul II is speaking from the grave. Aside from the fact that we're talking about 1/250th of a second where the flames SORT of resemble the late pontiff -- why has no one thought to suggest that this Harry Potter-esque incarnation means JP2 didn't pass muster with St. Peter and is currently residing in the hotter of the two afterlifes?

But this picture is my favorite instance of supernatural messianic appearances in the natural world:
(And that's not your imagination -- the file cyles, underlaying the original image with an actual image of Jesus, in order to highlight the similarities.)

Expediency vs. Rationality

Schwarzenegger did it again. He vetoed the same-sex marriage bill passed by the State Assembly. His reasons for doing so, I'm sure, are entirely politically-motivated. My guess is he believes in equality, but also loves the power of his office and can't keep that office if voters think he's mocking their deeply-held religious beliefs by allowing abominations (specifically, two people of the same gender committing to a legally-recognized partnership of mutual support) to be state-sanctioned. Instead, he hides behind the skirts of the courts and says, let them decide.

This column from The Daily Californian (the UC Berkeley student paper) gets it mostly right -- not just exhorting Schwarzenegger to lead and do the right thing, but by succinctly laying out the logical reasons why signing the law would in fact have been the right thing to do. I guess we'll just have to let the courts lead, and listen to the right squawk about "activist" judges.

Read This

From Andrew Sullivan's blog blog.

A reader in Iraq gave him some encouraging news from inside the country. Money quote: "An Arab democracy is being formed here. Forming political parties and coalitions is the new growth industry. It is staggering just how enthusiastically Arabs take to this sort of thing."

Quote for the Day

From novelist/philosopher Rebecca Goldstein (wife of one of my favorite writers/thinkers, Steven Pinker): "(Spinoza) really does believe that we can save ourselves through being rational. And I believe in that. I believe that if we have any hope at all, it's through trying to be rigorously objective about ourselves and our place in the world. We have to do that. We have to submit ourselves to objectivity, to rationality."

Read the full interview with both here.

Sunday, October 14, 2007

"Our crucible moment"

An interesting, reflective column from Thomas Friedman.

Money quote: "Never has so much national unity — which could have been used to develop a real energy policy, reverse our coming Social Security deficit, assemble a lasting coalition to deal with Afghanistan and Iraq, maybe even get a national health care program — been used to build so little. That is what historians will note most about Mr. Bush’s tenure — the sheer wasted opportunity of it all."

Friday, October 12, 2007

"I am one with my BlackBerry."

Sometimes, I think my cell phone is vibrating. I feel it in my pocket. I reach for it. But it's not vibrating. It's just an illusion. Apparently, I'm not alone in having such hallucinations. Money quote (that I think also best explains the genesis of the phenomenon): "As human beings, we're so tapped into our community, responsiveness to what's going on, we're so attuned to the threat of isolation and rejection, we'd rather make a mistake than miss a call," said B.J. Fogg, director of research and design at Stanford's Persuasive Technology Lab. "Our brain is going to be scanning and scanning and scanning to see if we have to respond socially to someone."

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Marriage is Mainstream


According to this story from the Associated Press, advice columnist Dear Abby (actually Abby's daughter, who has assumed the mantle) has come out foursquare in favor of same-sex civil marriage. Money quote: "Women were once considered chattel, and slavery was regarded as sanctioned in the Bible. However, western society grew to recognize that neither was just. Canada, Belgium, the Netherlands and Spain have recognized gay marriage, and one day, perhaps, our country will, too."

How much more mainstream can you get? If Abby is on our side, I think a majority will share her opinion.

Attend the Tale of Sweeney Todd


I don't know how it happened, but I've become a Stephen Sondheim fan. I'd never much cared for his music. Oh, I liked a few songs here and there: "Send in the Clowns" when I was young. (Always loved the highly dramatic and/or tragic.) "Ladies Who Lunch" and "Not Getting Married" were a couple of others I dug. Then I saw "Company" in New York last year, and an interesting DVD version of "Follies." Those got me listing over to Stephen's side, but it was last night's production of "Sweeney Todd" at the Geary Theater that put me over the edge. I'd never seen the show before, had heard a few of the songs, but it had never drawn me. But in John Doyle's brilliant pared-down staging (in which the nine-member cast is also the orchestra), I was transported into the grand guignol world of the penny-dreadful story of the Demon Barber of Fleet Street.

Tickets are available at half-price on GoldstarEvents.com. I suggest you go.

Tuesday, October 09, 2007

"I love the arctic in October...when it sizzles."

Fox News, it seems, has finally admitted that global climate change is real. But rather than joining the consensus that we ought to do something about reversing it, they believe it's just what we need because it will give us access to previously untapped oil reserves. More here.

Friday, October 05, 2007

How Much is that Coatamundi in the Window?


New license laws for exotic pets in Britain. Sign me up for an ocelot.

The Manx Turns 40


My middle brother, like my father, is exceptionally handy. A guy who can fix or assemble almost anything. (I, on the other hand, rely heavily on the maintenance and repair professionals of the world. When it comes to home improvement, for example, my skills top out at jiggling the handle. Get much beyond that and I call in the pros.) When he was in his early 20s, he bought a kit to build a Meyers Manx, the quintessential California dune buggy. (Seen above.) I remember his search for a VW bug which had suffered significant body damage, but still had its frame intact. (Building a Manx involved primarily the Beetle frame and drive train -- the body was tossed.) I can recall the bare frame of the Beetle in our garage on Randolph Street, sliced in two in order to shorten the wheelbase. I remember the fiberglass body (orange, I think) being bolted to the new frame, and new, dramatic, upturned exhaust outlets being added to the air-cooled VW engine. My brother then had a doorless, topless vehicle that he used to run on the dunes and beaches near our coastal home.

Later, my brother sold the Manx -- but quickly took on another project, creating a "Baja Bug" by customizing another Beetle by abbreviating the hood, enhancing the engine and adding wide tires designed for traction in sand. Sort of like this one, but blue.
All this reminiscing was brought on by a story in the New York Times about the 40th anniversary of the Meyers Manx, the original dune buggy kit car. Who knew they'd end up being collectible?

Wednesday, October 03, 2007

On Top of the World


When I was a boy, camping with my family or, later, visiting our houseboat at Trinity Lake in the far northern reaches of California, I would occasionally see a fire lookout station -- the mountaintop shacks where people would spend a summer by themselves, watching the surrounding landscape for signs of forest fires. I always thought it would be interesting to sit up there, perched, all alone, observing. I would read and look up to scan the horizon. I'd cook whatever I wanted, and on rare occasions be visited by a passing hiker.

Today's New York Times has a story on a real life tower lookout. Interestingly enough, his life sounds just about like my fantasy.

Tuesday, October 02, 2007

Editing is one thing...


...mutilation is another.

Flipping through the channels tonight, I ran across one of my favorite movie comedies, Mel Brooks' "Blazing Saddles." It was playing on the Country Music Channel, CMT. I can understand some editing to satisfy the FCC, but if there is one word that you can't cut from "Blazing Saddles," it's "nigger." The whole point of the movie is how an all-white town in the post-Civil War era deals with the arrival of an African-American sherriff. And what's the main word they cut? Of course. It's like airing "Citizen Kane" and cutting "rosebud." It's just not the same movie.

Friday, September 28, 2007

At peace with himself -- at war with the world

During the run-up to our ongoing Iraqi fiasco, President Bush had a sit-down with Spanish prime minister Jose Maria Aznar (speaking of which, can you imagine the ribbing a kid would get in the US if his parents named him "Joseph Mary"?) in which he talked about his plans for the imminent invasion of Iraq, and Aznar pleaded with Bush to show a little more patience an to build a stronger coalition against Saddam. Bush, however, with his spine of steel (connected to a mind of oatmeal) was stuck on "stay the course." When hasn't he been, is my question.

Money quote: "Bush quickly waved away any such tantalizing possibility, along with all the rest of the concerns and proposals voiced by his staunchest ally next to British Prime Minister Tony Blair. Instead, he sternly warned that any foreign leader who continued to oppose him would be punished. Indeed, displaying his usual flair for diplomacy, he mocked the Spanish leader's worries about the growing rift between the United States and its traditional allies across the Atlantic. "The more the Europeans attack me," gloated the president, "the stronger I am in the United States."

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

God vs. Skippy


And they say it with a perfectly straight face. Did they ever stop to think that despite the disparity in scale (a hundred years or so vs. billions of years, not to mention the presence of different elements), new life might be appearing in the peanut butter -- but is microscopic?

Remember, at least TWO of the Republican presidential candidates don't believe in evolution.

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Achieving Mencken's Vision


H. L. Mencken waxes prophetic about the presidency:

" . . . all the odds are on the man who is, intrinsically, the most devious
and mediocre — the man who can most easily (and) adeptly disperse
the notion that his mind is a virtual vacuum. The presidency tends, year
by year, to go to such men.

As democracy is perfected, the office represents, more
closely, the inner soul of the people. We move toward a lofty
ideal. On some great and glorious day, the plain folks of the land will
reach their heart's desire at last, and the White House will be adorned by a
downright moron."

Monday, September 24, 2007

Roosevelt Was Right

He said, "the only thing we have to fear is fear itself." Though when he spoke those words in 1933, he spoke of the fear Americans were feeling in the wake of a depression bank panic, his words ring true today as American Christianists call repeatedly upon the fear of God's wrath. Look what godlessness is doing to our country, the would-be theocrats say. This video is a great example of how insidious this thinking has become.
This choir is singing at the "Value Voters" debate, at which all the major Republican presidential candidates appeared. (They wouldn't deign to debate in front of black people, Hispanic people or gay people, but they all trotted out for the creationists.)

Fear seems to be the coin of the realm for the current administration. (I won't even call them Republicans anymore, as the Bush, Cheney and the neo-con crowd have become a cabal unto themselves.) Fear of terrorism, fear of sexuality, fear of death -- all are used to prop up the President and maintain his power. Ultimately, what they seem to want is for voters to put their trust in an invisible god and cede their power as citizens to men and women who pretend to speak for this distant deity. That leaves a lovely vacuum for them to seize even more authority of a government that was designed to be "of the people, by the people and for the people." Contrary to another great president's words, this ideal may indeed perish from the earth if those same people don't start using their brains.

Home Futures

Apparently there is a new market opened at the Chicago Mercantile Exchange, with contracts being sold there based on the price of real estate. Take a look at this blog post, which outlines where traders at the CME think housing prices are going, based on the bets they have made. Kind of scary. These guys are putting real money that prices will be down significantly over the next five years.

Sunday, September 23, 2007

More on Larry Craig?

Here you are, my two faithful readers, seeing that -- after almost two weeks of radio silence -- another post has appeared on the Feast. And what does it seem to be about? Larry Craig. Sorry, I'm just not interested in OJ. On the other hand, Frank Rich is also still interested in Larry Craig. What's more, now that the New York Times has decided to make all content in the paper available on the Web (it used to be that some columnists could only be read through TimesSelect, a pay version of the online edition), you can read it.

Money quote: "What Mr. Craig did in that men's room isn't an offense either. He didn't have sex in a public place. He didn't expose himself. His toe tapping, hand signals and "wide stance" were at most a form of flirtation. As George Will has rightly argued, if deviancy can be defined down to "signaling an interest in sex," then deviancy is what "goes on in 10,000 bars every Saturday night in our country." It's free speech even if the toes and fingers do the talking."

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Expensive Gas=Slimmer Waistlines


According to a new study, a rise in gasoline prices may lead to a reduction in the rate of obesity. Money quote: "The study found that an additional $1 per gallon in real gasoline prices would reduce U.S. obesity by 15 percent after five years."

Sunday, September 09, 2007

Get on the Judy Train


Before it's too late, hurry down to the Plush Room and get yourself a ticket for Judy Butterfield's new show, "How Long Has This Been Going On?" Pretty soon she might be a star and you'll never have a shot at getting this up close and personal with her. Better yet, bring some friends, and you can all be stunned by the artistry of cabaret's new wunderkind. Just 17 years old, Judy Butterfield has an assuredness and a stage presence that belie her tender years. More than that, she displays the kind of fearlessness that is vital to any true artist. She stands on stage completely confident in who she is and what she has to offer. She is, simply put, a budding star. What does she have to offer? Plenty.

Unlike most kids her age, Butterfield has fallen in love with the American songbook. She sings tunes from George Gershwin, Cole Porter, Jermore Kern, Rodgers and Hart and others. She begins the evening with "Skylark," delivering a lovely version of that haunting song and closes with a Curtis Mayfield tune, "Please Find Me Someone To Love." Along the way, she makes two stops, one for Dylan's "It Ain't Me, Babe" and the Beatles' "If I Fell." But other than those three numbers, the playlist was almost entirely from the 20s, 30s and 40s. (But I must admit, I think the Dylan and Beatles numbers were my favorites of the evening -- she did what a true artist does: helped me to experience the familiar in a fresh way.)

The show itself is well put-together; her patter is funny without trying too hard to be funny, just personal enough, and draws you through the evening in an elegant, economical manner. It's really a terrific show.

My only criticism is that when Butterfield is being gentle with a song, she can have a a pitch problem or two. But that will fade as she gains experience. Besides, her pitch and tone are lovely when she's really singing out.

I can't wait to see how Butterfield develops as an artist; it will be fascinating to see her again in five or six years. Depending on the course she takes with her career however, that could be at the Oak Room in New York, on a Broadway stage, or even an arena. The girl's got a lot going for her.

An Effort in Futility


Larry Craig has decided to attempt to withdraw his guilty plea for disorderly conduct in the men's room at the Minneapolis airport in June. Given the nature of the testimony (and, I imagine, the power of his attorneys), I suspect Craig could achieve an acquittal, or get the charges dropped altogether.

His problem is, being cleared in a strictly legal sense (in this instance, at least) will do nothing to help him in the court of public opinion. People aren't stupid. They know what Craig went into that restroom looking for. If he truly had suffered a "manifest injustice," as his lawyers are claiming, wouldn't he have mentioned it to his wife and/or staff?

Tales of Power


I never thought I'd think of John Ashcroft as one of the good guys, but read this story from the New York Times. It discusses some of the materials in a forthcoming book by Jack Goldsmith, former head of the Office of Legal Counsel. There is much here to anger those who see the continuing abuses of power by the Bush/Cheney cabal (most notably the continuing evidence that, once Bush has made up his mind about something, nothing can deter him -- not facts, and certainly not legality).

But my favorite bit is the story of how, after then-Attorney General Ashcroft was visited in the ICU by AG Alberto Gonzales and chief of staff Andrew Card in an attempt to get Ashcroft to renew a secret terrorist surveillance program, Ashcroft's wife expressed her displeasure at these men's attempt to capitalize on her husband's weakened state: “Mrs. Ashcroft, who obviously couldn’t believe what she saw happening to her sick husband, looked at Gonzales and Card as they walked out of the room and stuck her tongue out at them. She had no idea what we were discussing, but this sweet-looking woman sticking out her tongue was the ultimate expression of disapproval. It captured the feeling in the room perfectly.”

NOTE: photo is NOT of Mrs. Ashcroft