Friday, May 30, 2008

Ashland (part five)


The two plays I was most anxious to see on this trip to Ashland were Coriolanus and Fences. I was not disappointed by either one, even though I ended up being even more excited by two other productions I had not expected to enjoy as much -- Midsummer's Night Dream and The Further Adventures of Hedda Gabler. Isn't that often the case? That's not to say that I was in any way disappointed with either Coriolanus or Fences (see my rave review of the former below).

Although Judy and I were of course familiar with the name of August Wilson, and had heard of several of his plays, neither of us had ever seen one until we saw Gem of the Ocean at last year's Ashland Festival. For those who aren't familiar with these works, it is essential to know that August Wilson's central canon consists of a cycle of ten plays chronicling the 20th century African-American experience, one play for each decade of the century. These plays were not written in chronological order. Thus, Gem of the Ocean, which begins the cycle in 1904, was written after Fences, a comparatively early play in Wilson's oeuvre that is itself set in the 1950's with a postscript taking place about ten years later in the mid-60's.

Gem of the Ocean tells the story of Aunt Esther, a seemingly ageless African-American matriarch who represents the last generation to have experienced slavery before the Civil War, and her deep influence on and nurturning of the younger people around her. We were so intensely moved by Gem that we were anxious to see another part of Wilson's cycle.

We were not disappointed. Fences is the story of one man's struggle to come to grips with the bitterness and disappointment of failing to break out of the segregated Negro Baseball League and into the newly integrated Major Leagues at the time Jackie Robinson became the first African-American baseball player to do so. Troy takes out his frustration and anger at his perceived "failure" on his son Cory, by forbidding him from pursuing his great talent for football with a college scholarship. Cory, who longs to emulate his father, is ultimately alienated by Troy's harsh treatment. Troy's desperate attempts to validate his manhood also damage his marriage, although his long-suffering wife Rose sticks with him to the end.

The Ashland Festival has a history of presenting the cycle of August Wilson's plays in excellent productions with the very finest actors available. In that tradition, every single role in this production was superbly filled. Charles Robinson was of course the standout in the central role, but he was perfectly matched by Shona Tucker as Rose, Cameron Knight as Cory, Kevin Kenerly as Troy's other son Lyons, and Josiah Phillips as Troy's close friend Jim. Special mention must be made of Ashland stalwart G. Valmont Thomas in the role of Gabriel, Troy's mentally disabled brother. Thomas was so convincing in this poignant role that I totally forgot that he was the same actor I had seen a couple of years ago perform the role of Falstaff so magnificently in Merry Wives of Windsor. It is hard for me to imagine two roles more dissimilar. Yet Thomas was Gabriel as fully and convincingly as he had been Falstaff. No small feat indeed.

Welcome Home, Jenny Sutter

Welcome Home, Jenny Sutter was the first play on our menu when we arrived at Ashland on Thursday May 15 after our five hour drive from the Bay Area. Perhaps because we saw it on evening of our first day after an all-day drive, we were not in quite the right frame of mind to fully appreciate it. Whatever the reason, although we did not dislike the play at all, it did not move or excite us in the way the other productions did. However, as time has passed since we saw it, I have come to realize that this particular play unfolds its beauties slowly and quietly, in much the way the action of the play proceeds.

Jenny Sutter is about a wounded soldier returning home from the Iraq war, and her readjustment to civilian life as she grapples with living with a prosthetic leg. Her story unfolds in the context of her odyssey through the greyhound bus system and takes her to Slab City in the Anza-Borrego desert, the world's largest seasonal encampment of squatters, hobos and transient free spirits. The play proceeds in a seemingly meandering, aleatory manner, as Jenny encounters and responds first to ordinary civilians oblivious to the reality of a war they have largely forgotten, and later to the eccentric characters who inhabit Slab City. Because they share with Jenny the status of social outsiders, the latter free spirits turn out to be more empathetic and ultimately helpful to her in her struggle to adjust to returning home. Interestingly, the play makes no overt political statement about the Iraq war, resolutely focusing instead on the individual human damage inflicted on those who signed up to fight it in good faith and now must pay a highly personal price for that decision.

Because of the ensemble nature of casting at the Ashland Festival, most of the people we saw performing in Jenny Sutter also appeared in key roles in one or more of the other plays we saw. In the title role, Gwendolyn Mulamba was excellent, even though her many talents were shown to better effect in The Further Adventures of Hedda Gabler (in which she played a score of roles, some of which required her to sing and dance in styles ranging from 20's rag to Italian Grand Opera). The other standout in Jenny Sutter was Kate Mulligan (who, like Mulamba, had several supporting roles in Further Adventures of H.G.). Mulligan, an amazingly energetic and versatile performer, was quite funny and moving as Lou, the eccentric vagabond who befriends Jenny at a Greyhound bus station and takes her to Slab City.

This production of Welcome Home, Jenny Sutter is being taken to Washington D.C. for performances at the Kennedy Center this summer.

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Ashland (part four)

The Clay Cart

In my earlier post on The Further Adventures of Hedda Gabler, I pointed out the significance of the fact that Ashland Artistic Director Bill Rauch chose that particular play to make his directorial debut in his role as company Artistic Director. That statement was somewhat misleading, since Rauch is also the director in this his debut season of another significant and very beautiful play -- The Clay Cart.

Written approximately 2,000 years ago by the great Sanskrit playwright Sudraka, The Clay Cart is an epic portrayal of the eternal struggle between good and evil, here represented by the conflict between the unselfishly generous and compassionate protagonist Charudatta and his nemesis -- the vicious, lustful and power-hungry Samsthanaka -- over the affections of the ravishingly beautiful courtesan Vasantasena. It is also a highly erotic love story about the (very nearly fatal) attraction between the saintly (albeit married) Charudatta and the irresistibly sexy Vasantasena. Think Kama Sutra meets Bollywood through the eyes of a modern American director working in a Shakespearean festival context, and you'll have a pretty good idea of what this production is like.

In that light, I was struck by the extraordinary parallels between this ancient play and several of Shakespeare's works. As in the case of the title character in Timon of Athens, Charudatta is a noble man so extravagantly generous with his friends and community that all his great wealth has been given away. Yet when he runs out of money, none of his former friends will help him out. Unlike Timon, however, the saintly Charudatta willingly accepts his lot as Karma, and chooses to meditate on the void rather than turn into a raving misanthrope cursing fate. That's a definite plus for this play; Timon is kind of a downer.

Another Shakespearean play that comes to mind is Troilus and Cressida. As in that play, the love story in Clay Cart is more than a little torrid, and even a bit "nasty," if you will. Vasantasena is, after all, a highly experienced courtesan, and her proficiency in the arts of love is repeatedly emphasized in the story. Moveover, Charudatta is a very married man. Yet, as the action of the play makes clear, this is entirely irrelevant; all that matters is the lovers' overwhelming desire for each other. Charudatta and Vasantasena must have each other, and that's that.

Finally, The Clay Cart very nearly becomes a tragedy like Romeo and Juliet when Vasantasena is believed dead and Charudatta is falsely accused of her murder. But at the last minute, the Indian epic turns into a very Shakespearean Romance with a quasi-magical happy ending when Vasantasena is revived and reappears to rescue her lover -- not unlike the situations in Winter's Tale, Pericles, and Cymbeline.

The most truly "exotic" and "foreign" difference between The Clay Cart and those Shakespearean plays, of course, is not so much in its costuming or the unusual names of its characters as in the decidedly non-Christian cultural assumptions underlying every aspect of the story. Most strikingly, there is absolutely no moral stigma attached to the fact that Charudatta is married to another woman (who indeed is a character appearing in the play named Dhuta), at the same time the principal subject of the play is the trials and tribulations he and the exotically beautiful courtesan Vasantasena must experience before they can enjoy blissfully untroubled sexual union with each other. From a feminist standpoint, the fate of Dhuta is more than a bit troubling. She doesn't appear to be having a particularly rewarding time of it, that's for sure.

The production is beautifully staged in what to this modern American viewer seemed a very traditional Indian style, complete with beautiful music and dancing in the appropriate manner. All roles were well played, particularly the leads -- Charudatta by Cristofer Jean, and Vasantasena by the very beautiful Miriam Laube.

Ashland (part three)

The Further Adventures of Hedda Gabler

Next to Midsummer's Night Dream, my biggest surprise fave at this year's Ashland Festival was The Further Adventures of Hedda Gabler, a relatively new play by Jeff Whitty, the Tony Award winning author of Avenue Q. It is significant that the new Artistic Director of the Ashland Festival, Bill Rauch, chose this particular play as the first one he would direct in this, his debut season as Artistic Director. That fact alone gives some indication of the importance of this play. I'm happy to say that the quality of this production is of the very highest caliber, and bodes well for Rauch's tenure.

This amazingly imaginative theater piece is a fantasy-meditation on the destiny of fictional characters in relation to the creative minds of their creators who give them life, and the theater-going (and reading) audience who keep them living for as long as they are still performed, read, and remembered. This is a really wonderful play which is well worth seeing, and I don't want to spoil it by giving away too much about its amazing twists and turns. Suffice it to say, our heroine is tired of shooting herself over and over again (by now, for over a century) in narcissistic, self-absorbed despair. Hedda longs for a way to change the course of her destiny in a new and happier direction. She therefore decides to set out to find the fiery furnace of creativity from whence she came, hoping for a "rewrite." Along the way, she (and the audience) discover a great deal about the nature of creativity, and how the fictional creations of literature affect and are affected by their audience over time. In the process, she (and we) also learn something about changing cultural stereotypes; the nature of classic timelessness versus merely transient popularity; and (somehow) even life itself and what it means to be truly alive.

Resplendent in the title role is the stunning Robin Goodrin Nordli, who not coincidentally also portrayed Hedda Gabler in Rauch's Ashland production of the Ibsen masterpiece five years ago. Nordli is alternately screamingly hilarious and genuinely moving as the unhappily married woman desperate to escape her tragic fate and find real happiness, even if it must be with her terminally boring husband Tesman. As she hurls herself passionately around the stage emoting in high tragi-comic dudgeon, she strikes poses like a classic tragedienne who finds herself caught in a Toulouse Lautrec poster. I absolutely loved this performance. Indeed, it was my favorite of any in the six productions we saw.

At the beginning of the play, Hedda awakens or "comes to" after once again shooting herself in the head ("But people don't do that sort of thing!") in the offstage, off-the-page world where fictional characters "live." She is nursed back to health (quickly -- she was never "really" dead) by her house servant, who is none other than Mammy from Gone With the Wind. In this role is Kimberly Scott, a newcomer to Ashland who originated the role in the premiere production at South Coast Repertory. Inspired by Hedda's search for a new destiny and what she learns from other more contemporary African-American characters she meets (including a wise-cracking very 21st century female police detective from Law and Order), Mammy gradually awakens to the possibility of escaping her white-created, stereotypical character and becoming a fully liberated black woman. Her journey of self-discovery and self-realization is perhaps the most moving part of this play. Scott's performance is perfect, and very nearly steals the show.

She has a lot of competition, though. One of the glories of this production is the wealth of amazing performances by the relatively small (seven person) cast, most of whom (aside from Nordli) portray more than one character. Outstanding are Kate Mulligan as, among others, Medea and Cassandra; Gregory Linington as, among others, Lovborg and Jesus Christ; Gwendolyn Mulamba as an amazing panoply of African-American characters, well known and forgotten; and, most especially, Anthony Heald (last year's Tartuffe) and Jonathan Haugen as a pair of flaming queens straight (pun intended) out of The Boys in the Band. The latter two serve as guides, companions and mentors to Hedda and Mammy as they journey toward their fatal encounter with the fiery furnace of creation.

If anyone reading this blog post ever has a chance to see The Further Adventures of Hedda Gabler, she or he should seize the opportunity by the throat. Better yet, go up to Ashland RIGHT NOW and see it. Judy and I have already purchased tickets to see it again in August.

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Ashland (part two)

A Midsummer's Night Dream

The best single word description for the current production of A Midsummer's Night Dream at Ashland is SEXY. Other equally appropriate words are: fast-paced, raucous, colorful, and very very funny. Although the production pushes the envelope quite a bit, it never falls off the table, so to speak. To the contrary, I would have to call this particular production the best I've ever seen of this frequently performed play. Primary credit goes to Director Mark Rucker, but scenic designer Walt Spangler and costume designer Katherine also deserve mention.

From the very first moment, it is obvious that this production is going for broke. Theseus (the ever-amazing Michael Elich) and Hippolyta (the reliable Shona Tucker) are ensconced on a pair of gigantic white art-deco chairs like an extremely well-heeled power couple from the Sopranos, only smarter and hipper. The young lovers -- Hermia, Demetrius, Helena and Lysander -- are so achingly pubescent their budding sexuality can barely be contained. Visually, this is manifested by the ever-diminishing amount of clothing they wear as the play progresses.

The screamingly hilarious mechanicals literally drive onto the stage in an early 1970's VW luv van and then pour out to begin the rehearsal of their play. None of these characters is presented in a traditional manner, but each of their wonderful characterizations is pitch perfect. Bottom (Ray Porter) is an aging hippy, complete with a long David Crosby mane and hearty enthusiasm to match. Francis Flute is perfectly portrayed by the diminutive Eileen DeSandre. When Quince tells Flute "he" is to play Thisbe, DeSandre brings down the house with the line: "Nay, faith, let not me play a woman. I have a beard coming." I particularly enjoyed Jonathan Toppo's Peter Quince, for once presented not as a bumbling country yokel, but instead as a provincial wanna-be stage director straight out of Waiting for Guffman.

Finally, and most shockingly, the fairies -- with the exception of Tatania (a fetchingly lithesome Christine Albright, last year's Juliet) -- are an all-male, gender-bending band of fey yet macho punks in tutus and combat boots. What can I say. Believe it or not, it worked. Kevin Kenerly -- always one of my favorite performers, no matter what he plays -- is superb as Oberon. I can't imagine a better portrayal of this role. And special kudos to John Tufts for nearly stealing the show as Puck, the sexiest fairy of them all. His evening-closing "If we shadows have offended," delivered with hand-held mike like some kind of cross-dressing Prince at a rock concert, brought down the house and made the hair on the back of my neck stand up.

Everybody at Ashland appears to love this show. I heard almost no negative feed back, and even the elderly couple sitting to my right was enthusiastic about the whole thing. We aren't in Kansas anymore, fer sure.

Monday, May 26, 2008

Ashland (part one)


Having just returned from a wonderful week spent in Ashland, the Oregon Coast and Redwood National Park in far north western California, it's a good time to give a brief review of a few of the plays while they are still fresh in my memory.

We saw all six of the plays mounted before the summer opening of the outdoor "Elizabethan" stage. These were Coriolanus, A Midsummer Night's Dream, The Further Adventures of Hedda Gabler, The Clay Cart, Fences, and Welcome Home, Jenny Sutter. Although we enjoyed everything we saw, we were really blown away by the first four plays mentioned above. I will be reviewing them in the next several posts. First up: Coriolanus.

Coriolanus is one of my favorite Shakespeare plays. (I am admittedly attracted to the off-beat and under appreciated in general.) It is certainly the most political of all Shakespeare's plays, focusing as it does on the essential tension between the rights and freedoms of "the people" and the authority and power that necessarily must be centralized in and utilized by "the few" who lead and govern them. In Coriolanus, Shakespeare uses the conflict between the Roman mob and the patrician elite as a metaphor for the universal and eternal political battle between left and right, liberal and conservative, the collective and the elite, democracy and dictatorship. The brilliance of the play is that in exploring this inevitable conflict over power between the few and the many, Shakespeare takes no sides. Instead, he reveals the strengths and weaknesses of both. In doing so, he suggests that neither Rousseau nor Hobbes has a monopoly on political truth, and that the ultimate reality is simply the never ending, never resolved struggle for dominance between these two opposing world views.

Veteran director Laird Williamson (whose stunning productions of On the Razzle and Cyrano de Bergerac delighted us in the last two seasons) sets Ashland's current production in a generically contemporary world where modern street people struggle against the power of well-heeled fat cats and authoritarian militarists. The most prominent of the latter is, of course, Coriolanus himself, brilliantly played in this production by Danforth Comins. This is a huge advance from Comins' last role as Orlando in As You Like It, competent as that was. His superb Coriolanus seeths with barely contained anger and contempt for the hoi polloi, and is truly frightening when those emotions spill out. The scene where Coriolanus reluctantly goes through the motions of appealing to the people for their popular votes to elect him consul was wonderful. In Comins' portrayal, it was clear that Coriolanus was sincerely trying to be a good politician even as his contempt for the whole process (and for the people whose votes he needed) prevented him from being successful at it.

Also outstanding in this cast were two stalwarts of the Ashland stage: Michael Elich as Aufidius, the Volcian leader who is Coriolanus' nemesis; and Robynn Rodriguez as Coriolanus' mother Volumnia. Both turned in exceptionally powerful performances, perfectly complementing and not overwhelming Comins' portrayal of the central role. All other members of the cast were excellent as well. The battle scenes were fantastically staged, particularly the intense one-on-one fights (with knives in this production) between Coriolanus and Aufidius. The impact of this production is greatly enhanced by the fact it is staged in the intimate New Theater, with the audience completely surrounding and practically in the midst of the action. Warning: watch out for splattered blood!

I will review Midsummer Night's Dream in my next post.

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Varieties of Libertarianism

Last weekend Judy and I spent a day in West Marin County, just north of San Francisco. This is truly a magical place, perhaps even more so than it used to be when the "Marin County Culture" was a relatively new phenomenon back in the early 1970's. (For a wonderful description of a three-day ramble through this area, complete with recommended bed and breakfasts, see this recent New York Times article.)

After crossing the Golden Gate and driving Highway One to Stinson Beach, we hiked in the Audubon Canyon Ranch, where we could see hundreds of nesting Egrets and Great Blue Herons in a wilderness preserved from freeway and suburban sprawl developers in the late 1950's and early '60's. Then we rambled around Bolinas, a bucolic old hippy community on the coast. Bolina's principal local claim to fame is the success with which its residents have persistently removed from nearby Highway One every directional road sign that CalTrans has tried to place at the intersection to identify the turnoff to Bolinas. In so doing for the past 30 odd-years, Bolinas residents have successfully prevented most people from noticing the turnoff, and thereby preserved their own isolation.

The result is that, even more than the rest of West Marin, Bolinas itself is an island both in time and in state of mind. The residents have succeeded as far as is possible in this internet age in cutting themselves off from the contemporary world, and have preserved a way of life that many aspired to in the late 1960's and early 1970's -- a way of life characterized by the so-called "new age" or "hippy" philosophy of live and let live, in "harmony with nature" and divorced from the "uptight" rat race of mainstream american consumerist culture. It is a very "liberal" philosophy, but one that is particularly antithetical to social regimentation, order, and control.

It struck me that the philosophy of West Marin and Bolinas could be called "libertarian" in the classical John Stuart Mills understanding of the term, because it was based on the theory that everyone should given as much freedom to do what they chose as possible limited only by the primary directive of "do no harm" to others. By this standard, one's freedom essentially ends at the tip of another's nose. But there is one very important caveat to this description. Unlike classical libertariansim, the libertarianism exemplified by West Marin and its residents (seen most purely in Bolinas) extends its injunction of "do no harm" to include harm to the environment and to animals, as well as to other individuals.

One could call this philosophy "soft libertarianism," to distinguish it from the stricter form of political libertarianism exemplified today by the campaigns of Ron Paul and Bob Barr -- a more "conservative" libertarianism that emphasizes economic freedom and the liberty of individuals to do anything in the free market they damn well please. This "hard" libertarianism -- whose great high priest was that queen of voodoo economics, author Ayn Rand -- sees people more as individual economic units than as members of a planetary ecosystem. In encounters with adherents of this philosophy, one commonly hears phrases such as "taxation is theft" and rants about the evils of any form of economic or environmental regulation, no matter what the salutary purpose or effect of such regulation might be for people's health, welfare and happiness.

Count me as a soft libertarian. Human beings are not simply individual automatons making individual economic decisions in a way which collectively, through the operation of the "invisible hand" of the free market, somehow result in the greatest good for the greatest number. Instead, we are highly evolved animals, seamlessly connected to the environment of the entire planet as well as to each other, whose actions for good or ill affect everything that happens in the web of life. With this understanding, we should all be free to live our lives as we choose, but within the parameters of the universal law of "do no harm."

Saturday, May 10, 2008

A Modest Proposal

Like many Democrats, I am increasingly dismayed by the potential damage the party could suffer in the general election campaign if we do not soon unite around a candidate and put an end to the acrimony and rancor of the primary. Here's a modest proposal to end the carnage now.

Barack Obama looks to be the presumptive nominee at this point, and is flush with lots of campaign contributions at the moment. How about he approaches Hillary's people and asks her to suspend her campaign in return for two favors to her: (1) his assistance in paying off her massive campaign debt; and (2) her appointment to the United States Supreme Court at the first available opportunity should he be elected president.

Now, wouldn't Hillary make a great Supreme Court Justice? And wouldn't that be a wonderful way to stick it to the Republicans in general -- and the Republican stooges currently sitting on the Supreme Court in particular? What a joy contemplating Hillary and Antonin Scalia negotiating opinions with each other.

Friday, May 9, 2008

Lame Duck

Recently, somewhere (I can't remember where) I saw the term "lame duck" used in the usual way it is used today -- to refer generally to some elected political official who had lost effective power for one reason or another. Often, the term is simply used to describe an elected official who, because of term limits, cannot run for another term. By that definition, because of the two-year presidential term limit set by the 22nd Amendment to the United States Constitution (adopted in 1951 by a Republican Congress in retribution for FDR's more than three terms in office), any president of the United States elected to a second full term is automatically a "lame duck" president upon taking office at the beginning of the second term.

The implication, of course, is that the poor sucker has no effective power or influence to do anything, because no one will pay any attention or ascribe any authority to someone who cannot run for that office again. This common usage of the word is wrong, and frankly, nonsense. Many presidents (and other term-limited officials) have had very effective final terms. Indeed, if this usage of the word made any sense, every single President of Mexico would be a lame duck for his or her entire term, since under the Mexican constitution, el Presidente is allowed to serve only ONE six-year term.

Historically speaking, the proper use of the term "lame duck" is for an elected official who is serving out the remainder of his or her term after the date of the election held to select the individual to hold that office for the next successive term. During that time period, the old office-holder is not viewed as being as important as the individual just elected to take his or her place. All eyes will be turned on the person just elected to take office, rather than on the person whose term of office will shortly be up. (The expression is applied to someone serving out the term, whether or not that individual ran for the next term and was defeated, or instead just chose not to run and observed the election from the sidelines, as it were, while it took place between two other candidates.)

Thus, to give a recent example, after Ronald Reagan defeated Jimmy Carter in the election of 1980 (held in November of that year), Carter was a true lame duck between the date of his defeat in the election up to Reagan's inauguration in January 1981. You will recall that something very significant in fact happened during this period: namely, the release of the infamous American hostages in Tehran by the Iranian islamist government, a release that is now believed to have been pre-arranged by the Reagan campaign team behind the backs of the elected American government, in order to embarrass and weaken the Carter Administration during the election.

This "lame duck" period used to be much longer, before the passage of the 20th Amendment to the United States Constitution. Under the Constitution as originally adopted, the terms of the Congress as well as of the President and Vice-President began on March 4, or four full months after the elections held to fill those posts. The lengthy period between the election and the assumption of office was necessary because of the length of time needed to travel the arduous journey from one end of the country to the other under the conditions in effect at that time (no planes, trains, or paved roads).

This long period had quite an effect on at least two momentous occasions: first, during the four month period between the election of Abraham Lincoln in November 1860 and his accession to office in March 1861, when lame-duck President James Buchanan diddled away the remainder of his term while the entire South seceded from the Union and Lincoln was obliged to watch helplessly from the sidelines unable to do anything about it; and second, during the comparable four month period of worsening Great Depression between the election of Franklin Delano Roosevelt in November 1932 and his taking office in March 1933, as the do-nothing Administration of Herbert Hoover continued doing nothing while FDR had to cool his heels in the wings waiting for a chance to start the New Deal.

A very significant thing (almost) happened during this latter period -- the (attempted) assassination of FDR before his taking office. On February 15, 1933, Giuseppe Zangara, an immigrant bricklayer, tried unsuccessfully to assassinate FDR while Roosevelt was giving a speech in Miami, Florida. Zangara failed, although he did manage accidentally to kill the Mayor of Chicago, Anton Cermak. If this attempt had been successful, Vice-President-elect John Nance Garner would have been sworn in as president on March 4, 1933. Garner is remembered for one thing: his infamous description of the office of the Vice President as not being worth a bucket of warm "spit" [sic]. Imagine what might have happened in the continuing Great Depression and onset of World War II if the nonentity and rather conservative Garner had been President. rather than the great FDR!

The situation was changed by the adoption of the 20th Amendment to the United States Constitution in 1933, which reduced the time between the election and the accession to office for President, Vice-President, and Congress. Under the 20th Amendment, as is well known today, the terms of Senators and Representatives end on January 3 at noon in the year when they are otherwise scheduled to end, and those of the President and Vice-President end at noon on January 20th.

And that's why we're all looking forward to January 20th, 2009, with such great anticipation today. And it's also why George W. cannot be truly said to be a "lame duck" until after the election to be held in November of this year. There's still a great deal of horrific damage he could do as Commander in Chief between now and then. Did someone mention the word Iran?