Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Worst. President. Ever.

Via Froomkin:

I generally avoid mentioning unscientific polls here, but this one, conducted by Robert S. McElvaine on the History News Network site, is getting a lot of attention elsewhere. The 109 self-selected respondents are professional historians. Kenneth T. Walsh writes for U.S. News: "History News Network found that 98 percent rated the Bush presidency a failure and only 2 percent saw it as a success. "Even more deflating, more than 61 percent of the historians said the current presidency is the worst in American history. In 2004, only 11.6 percent of the historians questioned rated Bush's presidency in last place."

The New York Times editorial board blogs: "We take most unscientific surveys with a large grain of salt, and this certainly falls into that category. On the other hand, we like the idea of historians starting to think about the George W. Bush presidency, and how it fits into larger patterns of American history. "We'd be interested in knowing more about the 1.8 percent of historians who regard this presidency as a success."

Sigh. I wonder if I'll live long enough to see the country recover. More likely, this is just the beginning of a long, steep decline. The most obvious question facing us is whether what we are witnessing more closely resembles the end of the Roman Republic, or the onset of the decline and fall of the Roman Empire. Talk about drastically telescoped historical scenarios.

Monday, April 7, 2008

A musical offering

Susannah Martin, the really outstanding director of Mrs. Warren's Profession, now appearing at Shotgun Players Ashby Stage in Berkeley (tel 510-841-6500 ext. 303 for tickets) came up with a really enchanting idea for the sound design of the show, which has actually introduced me to a significant composer I had overlooked -- the early 20th century German master, Max Reger. Susannah has selected an underlying musical theme for the entire play, specifically the theme and variations found in the first movement of W.A. Mozart's piano sonata in A major, K.331 (that's the sonata with the famous Rondo alla Turca last movement). However, the actual piano music is not heard until the last part of the play. Instead, Susannah uses a recording of Reger's early 20th century orchestral Variations on a Theme of Mozart, Op. 132, which employs the melody on which Mozart based his piano sonata varations.

The effect is wonderful. The audience first hears the lush, complex sound of the Reger orchestral variations, as appropriate for the situation at the beginning of the play. As the play progresses, and the central characters become more and more enmeshed in the consequences of their lies and secrets, and the social consequences thereof, the music is progressively "stripped down," until the audience only hears the solo piano playing the melody. The effect is to hear, as well as see, the heroine of the play (Vivie Warren) similarly stripped of the social comforts to which she had become accustomed, as she learns the truths of her background and makes difficult decisions about how to face the future and live her life in the light of those truths.

I highly recommend both the Mozart Piano Sonata K.331, and the Reger orchestral variations thereon. Reger is unfairly maligned today as a somewhat heavy, "difficult" composer. His Mozart Variations, Op. 132, is a great introduction. They are enchanting. And there's a good Naxos recording.

Dan Froomkin and Glenn Greenwald

I want to use this space today to promote two of the best commentators on the internet news scene. Both of these guys should by daily reading for anyone interested in what is going on in this country today, particularly with reference to the mainstream media's complicity in what I call the Bush Catastrophe.

First is Dan Froomkin, the author of a five-day-a-week (Monday thru Friday) piece on the Washington Post website entitled White House Watch. What Froomkin does is piece together, from a multitude of media sources, a daily diary of what Bush & Co. are up to and the reaction thereto both domestically and abroad. He brings his own strong point of view to this. In all honesty, that point of view has to be called left of center. That's one reason, but not the only one, why I make Dan Froomkin a part of my daily routine. The main reason I feel compelled to read him every day is simple: nowhere else can you get so much information about what's going on, so quickly, and without any corporate right-wing spin. For fun, he even includes URL references to the best political cartoons of the day. He has a huge following of readers. Every other Wednesday, he takes questions from those readers live on line. Their questions, and his answers thereto, are sometimes even more interesting than his regular blog/column, which is saying a lot. Dan is absolutely indispensable for the left of center political junkie.

You can check him our here: http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/blog/2008/04/07/BL2008040701344.html

The other person I want to highlight is Glenn Greenwald. Dan Froomkin regularly cites to Greenwald, so you can find him that way. But he's worth checking out every day himself in his regular Salon.com feature, because there's a lot more to his commentary than can be included in a brief reference in the Froomkin blog/column. Often Greenwald is the first to note a significant fact or trend otherwise overlooked by the establishment media (mainstream media or MSM for short).

For instance, today Greenwald cites the number of times in the past 30 days the MSM has referred to highly significant topics such as the Bush Administration's misuse of trumped up legal arguments to justify its use of torture and illegal wiretapping, versus how much attention the media has given such irrelevant distractions as Obama's bowling skills, Obama's non-wearing of an american flag lapel pin, and (believe it or not) Hillary's attitude about Monica Lewinski. As Greenwald reports, the results are shocking. For instance, in the past 30 days, there have been 102 references to the John Yoo memos on torture, and only 16 (!) references to the Yoo memos on violation of Fourth Amendment rights with respect to wiretapping. By contrast, there have been 1,043 references to "Obama and bowling," 1,607 references to "Obama and patriotism," over 3,000 references (or "too many to be counted") to "Obama and [Rev.] Wright," and an astounding 1,079 references to "Clinton and Lewinsky."

Thank God there are people like Glenn Greenwald to keep us apprised of this. It's bad enough with the Bush Administration trampling on the constitution and feeding the country a diet of lies and propaganda, without having to deal with the drastic effect on the american body politic of the global corporate media's funnelling of that diet of disinformation directly to our homes.

You can check Glenn Greenwald out here: http://www.salon.com/opinion/greenwald/2008/04/05/media/index.html

Sunday, April 6, 2008

Andrew Sullivan: You Go, Guy!

Thank you, Andrew Sullivan, for noticing. Check it out (via HuffPo):


Now, will someone please tell me why the University of California, Berkeley, Law School at Boalt Hall is still employing a potential war criminal? Or does he actually have tenure already?

Tongue Twisters

Gleaned in rehearsal for Mrs. Warren's Profession with Shotgun Players in Berkeley, at the Ashby Stage. (Now playing through April 27, tickets obtainable by calling 510-841-6500, ext. 303!)

A big black bug bit a big black bear and made the big black bear bleed blood.

The ruddy widow really wants ripe watermelon and red roses when winter arrives.

She stood on the balcony inexplicably mimicking him hiccuping and amicably welcoming him in.

I'm not the pheasant plucker, I'm the pheasant plucker's son, and I'll be here plucking pheasants 'til the pheasant plucker comes.

What will happen to the sheet slitter's daughter, when the sheet slitter's out slitting sheets?

I should point out that these delicious tongue twisters were given to us by our dialect coach. The director wanted the play to be performed using British accents and speech patterns appropriate to the period. That dialect, known as "received pronunciation," or "RP" for short, is no longer spoken widely in Great Britain. Most people there of all classes speak in their local dialect, of which the most widely spoken is called "Estuary" for the Thames estuary region in which it is spoken (viz., London and environs). To the American ear, Estuary sounds like cockney, although strictly speaking it isn't. Think Michael Caine -- he was one of the first important British actors to insist on simply spoken English as she is spoke in the mother country, rather than the so-called "Queen's English," or RP.
Anyway, we had to learn to speak in RP for this production, and these interesting Tongue Twisters are meant to be spoken in that dialect as a way to warm up the mouth and tongue for performance.

Saturday, April 5, 2008

Channelling my inner John Adams

In both 2000 and again in 2006, I had the pleasure and privilege of playing John Adams in the wonderful musical/drama "1776," performed at the Willows Theatre in Concord, California. Although I had been in the show once before in the mid-80's, at that time I was cast as Adams' nemesis, the conservative stalwart, John Dickinson.

For those who don't know the show, or the history: the Second Continental Congress was held in Philadelphia during the spring and summer of 1776 to address the colonists' grievances with Great Britain. In the Congress, John Adams (one of the representatives from the colony of Massachusetts) was the leader of the faction of colonial representatives favoring complete independence from Great Britain, while John Dickinson of Pennsylvania led those representatives who hoped somehow to reconcile with the mother country in a completely peaceful and harmonious way. You'll never guess how it turned out.

Anyway, performing Dickinson was great fun. It allowed me to channel up every image I had of the pompous, priggish, self-righteous, arrogant right-wingers of my, um, acquaintance, and conjure that composite image up on stage. In order to make the character believable and real, I simply tapped into my own deep well of anglophilia to create the right mix.

Performing Adams was something else entirely. It was (is) almost too easy for me to inhabit this character. Adams is constantly referred to as being "obnoxious and disliked" by his colleagues, on account of the fervency of his relatively radical views, the intensity with which he advocates those views to others, and his inability (or unwillingness) to smooth the rough edges of his personality with suavity and social decorum. As one of my best friends likes to point out, in performing John Adams I don't seem to be acting a part so much as just being myself on stage.

The observation seems to me to be pretty accurate. For the past going-on-eight years, I have experienced a constantly seething and barely containable anger over the incredible, daily outrages of the George W. Bush regime. I can say without hesitation that the theft of the election of 2000 by the right wing was the most catastrophic historical event to occur in my life time. At present, I am still unable to perceive a single positive thing to have emerged from this catastrophe. In my state of constant frustration and anger at the political situation of my beloved country, I feel a deep kinship with John Adams, who lived through similarly dark times of misrule and felt similar anger and frustration as a result. On the more positive side, I am blessed to have my own Abigail at home -- a life partner, wife, lover, dearest friend, who doesn't hesitate to tell me what for and put me in my place when I need it.

Unfortunately, I don't need my Abigail (her name is actually Judy) to remind me that my private rants about Bush, Cheney and the rest are of no positive benefit, and instead are actually bad for my own health and the sanity of my loved ones. This blog represents a modest attempt to do something marginally more positive about the situation in which we find ourselves. Let us celebrate the blessed constitutional right of free speech, one of the greatest gifts of J. Adams and his colleagues, the Jeffersons, Washingtons, Franklins and others. God, how I love those guys (and gals). Let's make sure Bush & Co. don't rob us of this right before they finally leave office.

This is my first blog post. I don't know how often I'll add my raves and rants to this space, but in doing so, I will endeavor to present my unashamedly liberal viewpoint with all the passion and at least some of the persuasiveness of John Adams. And while politics is my obsession, I intend to suppress it from time so I can talk about the more wonderful things in life -- things like great music, art, literature, food, and all that good stuff.