Tuesday, September 25, 2007

I've run out of superlatives for Paul Krugman

And yes, Southern white exceptionalism is about race, much more than it is about moral values, religion, support for the military or other explanations sometimes offered. There’s a large statistical literature on the subject, whose conclusion is summed up by the political scientist Thomas F. Schaller in his book “Whistling Past Dixie”: “Despite the best efforts of Republican spinmeisters to depict American conservatism as a nonracial phenomenon, the partisan impact of racial attitudes in the South is stronger today than in the past.”

Republican politicians, who understand quite well that the G.O.P.’s national success since the 1970s owes everything to the partisan switch of Southern whites, have tacitly acknowledged this reality. Since the days of Gerald Ford, just about every Republican presidential campaign has included some symbolic gesture of approval for good old-fashioned racism.

Thus Ronald Reagan, who began his political career by campaigning against California’s Fair Housing Act, started his 1980 campaign with a speech supporting states’ rights delivered just outside Philadelphia, Miss., where three civil rights workers were murdered. In 2000, Mr. Bush made a pilgrimage to Bob Jones University, famed at the time for its ban on interracial dating.

Politics in Black and White

Friday, September 21, 2007

All Krugman, all the time

Yes I know this is getting ridiculous, but Paul Krugman is just that good - and now he's no longer behind the pay wall!
One of my pet peeves about political reporting is the fact that some of my journalistic colleagues seem to want to be in another business – namely, theater criticism. Instead of telling us what candidates are actually saying – and whether it’s true or false, sensible or silly – they tell us how it went over, and how they think it affects the horse race. During the 2004 campaign I went through two months’ worth of TV news from the major broadcast and cable networks to see what voters had been told about the Bush and Kerry health care plans; what I found, and wrote about, were several stories on how the plans were playing, but not one story about what was actually in the plans
And while the pundits are doing theatre criticism, the theatre critics are doing punditry, as when Charles Isherwood said:
Affection for the enterprise is hard to resist, especially since the majority of the writers are women, who are chronically underrepresented on local stages. I’m not sure Ms. Healy’s relentlessly quirky exercise in neo-absurdism will win many converts to the cause, but the play can be granted a little leeway as part of a healthy, even inspirational exercise in authorial self-determination.
It's no secret that what both Isherwood and Ben Brantley want is brutal manly masculine plays, and they always look at plays by women as BY WOMEN. Women are very much still The Other in NYC theatre. You can see it in the way that Brantley contemptuously dismisses another play by a woman:
But the story approaches these topical matters with a calm, open mind and a tidy, symmetrical structure that balances and parallels different points of view. It’s like the Platonic ideal of a Lifetime television movie.
Lifetime, you may not know, is a TV channel aimed at women. To compare a play to a TV show on a women's network is about the most dismissive thing Brantley could think of to say about it. The men who still run theatre in NYC - and the women who mindlessly accept the rules, abide by the the idea that men's experiences = human condition while women's experiences = silly and stupid and unkewl.
Mostly what this is about though, is what I will call the Goldin-Rouse effect. When the producer of art is known to be a woman, the art produced is automatically rated lower than art produced by men. Here is the Goldin-Rouse study:
Blind auditions for symphony orchestras have contributed to a substantial increase in the number of women who have secured these positions, according to Cecilia Rouse, assistant professor of economics and public affairs.

In a blind audition, a screen is placed so that the evaluator can hear but not see the performer. While screens in final rounds of auditions are still uncommon, the use of screens in preliminary rounds is now a wide-spread practice, Rouse said.

She used personnel records and rosters from several symphony orches-tras to track the hiring of women musicians as orchestras adopted the practice of blind auditions during the 1970s and 1980s. Her findings are presented in "Orchestrating Impar-tiality: The Impact of 'Blind' Auditions on Female Musicians" (Working Paper #376 of the Industrial Relations Section, coauthored with Claudia Goldin of Harvard).

"The switch to blind auditions can explain between 30 percent and 55 percent of the increase in the propor-tion female among new hires and between 25 percent and 46 percent of the increase in the percentage female in the orchestras from 1970 to 1996," according to the study, which was based on a final analysis sample of 14,133 individuals and 592 audition segments.

The study found that the practice of blind auditions increased by 50 percent the probability that women would advance out of certain preliminary rounds. "The screen also enhances, by severalfold, the likelihood that a female contestant will be the winner in the final round," the authors noted.

And as Elizabeth Spelke, in her mighty smiting of evolutionary psychology asshole Steven Pinker (you don't think he's an asshole? At a future date I will count the ways) noted that in general, females are less likely to be given the benefit of the doubt:
What about the average successful vita, though: that is to say, the kind of vita that professors most often must evaluate? In that case, there were differences. The male was rated as having higher research productivity. These psychologists, Steve's and my colleagues, looked at the same number of publications and thought, "good productivity" when the name was male, and "less good productivity" when the name was female. Same thing for teaching experience. The very same list of courses was seen as good teaching experience when the name was male, and less good teaching experience when the name was female. In answer to the question would they hire the candidate, 70% said yes for the male, 45% for the female. If the decision were made by majority rule, the male would get hired and the female would not.

A couple other interesting things came out of this study. The effects were every bit as strong among the female respondents as among the male respondents. Men are not the culprits here. There were effects at the tenure level as well. At the tenure level, professors evaluated a very strong candidate, and almost everyone said this looked like a good case for tenure. But people were invited to express their reservations, and they came up with some very reasonable doubts. For example, "This person looks very strong, but before I agree to give her tenure I would need to know, was this her own work or the work of her adviser?" Now that's a perfectly reasonable question to ask. But what ought to give us pause is that those kinds of reservations were expressed four times more often when the name was female than when the name was male.

So there's a pervasive difference in perceptions, and I think the difference matters. Scientists' perception of the quality of a candidate will influence the likelihood that the candidate will get a fellowship, a job, resources, or a promotion. A pattern of biased evaluation therefore will occur even in people who are absolutely committed to gender equity.
Theatre critics see mediocre plays all the time, by male and female authors. What I am suggesting is that they, like the professors in the above study, are more likely to give male authors of mediocre work the benefit of the doubt. I will provide one example, which I originally dicussed in my essay "The Last Manly Man Playwright":
the opening paragraph of Michael Feingold's review in the Village Voice:
Despite my admiration for Adam Rapp's writing, I've stayed away from his plays the last few years—no easy task, given his prolific output—because they were starting to give me the locked-in feeling of a gifted artist endlessly circling round and round the same material, looking for someplace else to go but uncertain what direction to take next. In Rapp's case, this sense of imprisonment was particularly grueling because of the relentless sordidness in his work: characters always at the bottom of life, actions always the harshest and ugliest.

Rapp is such a gifted artist that Feingold's been avoiding his plays!

And that sums up the theatre world in NYC in 2007. Which is why, over a hundred and fifty years after Charlotte Bronte adopted the gender-hazy pen name Currer Bell, it might still be a good idea for female playwrights to avoid revealing their gender as long as possible.

Speaking of Bronte, my adaptation of Jane Eyre will be produced this February.

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Another awesome column from Krugman

The hits just keep coming: Sad Alan's Lament

I received an irate phone call from Mr. Greenspan after that article, in which he demanded to know what he had said that was wrong. In his book, he claims that Robert Rubin, the former Treasury secretary, was stumped by that question. That’s hard to believe, because I certainly wasn’t: Mr. Greenspan’s argument for tax cuts was contorted and in places self-contradictory, not to mention based on budget projections that everyone knew, even then, were wildly overoptimistic.

If anyone had doubts about Mr. Greenspan’s determination not to inconvenience the Bush administration, those doubts were resolved two years later, when the administration proposed another round of tax cuts, even though the budget was now deep in deficit. And guess what? The former high priest of fiscal responsibility did not object.

And in 2004 he expressed support for making the Bush tax cuts permanent — remember, these are the tax cuts he now says he didn’t endorse — and argued that the budget should be balanced with cuts in entitlement spending, including Social Security benefits, instead. Of course, back in 2001 he specifically assured Congress that cutting taxes would not threaten Social Security.

In retrospect, Mr. Greenspan’s moral collapse in 2001 was a portent. It foreshadowed the way many people in the foreign policy community would put their critical faculties on hold and support the invasion of Iraq, despite ample evidence that it was a really bad idea.
And strangely Greenspan showed up on The Daily Show tonight and Jon Stewart was ALSO brilliant! I will have a video clip ASAP.

I just love these liberal guys.

Sunday, September 16, 2007

Anais v. Ayn - who gets the asshole license?

In my essay The Asshole License, I mentioned that the AL is almost never granted to women, but that Ayn Rand had one. An article in today's NYTimes confirms this:
Rand had a reputation for living for her own interest. She is said to have seduced her most serious reader, Nathaniel Branden, when he was 24 or 25 and she was at least 50. Each was married to someone else. In fact, Mr. Britting confirmed, they called their spouses to a meeting at which the pair announced their intention to make the mentor-protégé relationship a sexual one.

“She wasn’t a nice person, ” said Darla Moore, vice president of the private investment firm Rainwater Inc. “But what a gift she’s given us.”
The sexual dalliances of Great Men of the Arts are commonplace. Pretty much ALL of them end up having sex with their young admirers. If the Great Man is heterosexual, this fact will inevitably be mentioned, with thinly veiled admiration, in a Great Man of the Arts profile in the New Yorker.

The few acknowledged great women of the arts are not allowed such license, generally speaking, even in the liberal New Yorker. I once read a profile of Anais Nin in the New Yorker where the profile's author admitted to feeling pity for Nin for having dalliances with much younger men. I can't find that profile, but you can get a sense of the tut-tut-tutting over Nin that you NEVER get over misbehaving males in this review of a biography of Nin in the NYTimes.

Ayn Rand is granted an asshole license, I think, for several reasons. Foremost, because her area of accomplishment involved that most traditionally manly of enterprises, economics. Her beliefs were also distinctly right-wing. Libertarian, to be exact, but really, libertarians are conservatives who like sex. And she certainly never dreamed of challenging the Patriarchy in her work, and the hero of her most popular book, The Fountainhead, rapes the heroine.

Anais Nin is best known for her diaries and her erotica and her affairs. You can't get much more feminine realm than that.

So that is why the male establishment, which still runs everything including the New Yorker and the New York Times - and the females who mindlessly accept the values of the male establishment, refuse to grant Nin an asshole license, but do grant one to Ayn Rand - virtually the only asshole license issued to a woman.

Friday, September 14, 2007

Oh Paul Krugman, I want you to have my babies

Here’s how I see it: At this point, Mr. Bush is looking forward to replaying the political aftermath of Vietnam, in which the right wing eventually achieved a rewriting of history that would have made George Orwell proud, convincing millions of Americans that our soldiers had victory in their grasp but were stabbed in the back by the peaceniks back home.

What all this means is that the next president, even as he or she tries to extricate us from Iraq — and prevent the country’s breakup from turning into a regional war — will have to deal with constant sniping from the people who lied us into an unnecessary war, then lost the war they started, but will never, ever, take responsibility for their failures.
More (behind the paywall though)

Thursday, September 13, 2007

go Kathy Griffin

I support Kathy Griffin's right to speak her mind.
She REALLY pissed off sanctimonious creep Catholic League's Bill Donohue. Kudos Kathy!

Friday, September 07, 2007

Good night sweet prince: and flights of angels sing thee to thy rest

Today marks ten years since the death of Earl Rich in a motorcycle crash. And I still haven't finished the online tribute I began for him nine years ago.

Earl Rich was a magical person. He was beautiful and charming and athletic and popular - but he was also well-read and sympathetic and open-minded. The emails that I included in my "Long Essay on a Brief Life" give a small taste of his many-layered personality.

I will take this moment to mention the strange phenomena I experienced the day he died, which will surely prevent me from ever getting a membership in CSICOP.

But I've been working on an adaptation of Jane Eyre, which also has its own paranormal occurance. I'll let Jane describe it - she begins by quoting her beloved, Edward Rochester:
"I was in my own room, and sitting by the window, which was open: it soothed me to feel the balmy night-air; though I could see no stars and only by a vague, luminous haze, knew the presence of a moon. I longed for thee, Janet! Oh, I longed for thee both with soul and flesh! I asked of God, at once in anguish and humility, if I had not been long enough desolate, afflicted, tormented; and might not soon taste bliss and peace once more. That I merited all I endured, I acknowledged--that I could scarcely endure more, I pleaded; and the alpha and omega of my heart's wishes broke involuntarily from my lips in the words--'Jane! Jane!Jane!'"

"Did you speak these words aloud?"

"I did, Jane. If any listener had heard me, he would have thought me mad: I pronounced them with such frantic energy."

"And it was last Monday night, somewhere near midnight?"

"Yes; but the time is of no consequence: what followed is the strange point. You will think me superstitious,--some superstition I have in my blood, and always had: nevertheless, this is true--true at least it is that I heard what I now relate.

"As I exclaimed 'Jane! Jane! Jane!' a voice--I cannot tell whence the voice came, but I know whose voice it was--replied, 'I am coming: wait for me;' and a moment after, went whispering on the wind the words--'Where are you?'

"I'll tell you, if I can, the idea, the picture these words opened to my mind: yet it is difficult to express what I want to express. Ferndean is buried, as you see, in a heavy wood, where sound falls dull, and dies unreverberating. 'Where are you?' seemed spoken amongst mountains; for I heard a hill-sent echo repeat the words. Cooler and fresher at the moment the gale seemed to visit my brow: I could have deemed that in some wild, lone scene, I and Jane were meeting. In spirit, I believe we must have met. You no doubt were, at that hour, in unconscious sleep, Jane: perhaps your soul wandered from its cell to comfort mine; for those were your accents--as certain as I live--they were yours!"

Reader, it was on Monday night--near midnight--that I too had received the mysterious summons: those were the very words by which I replied to it. I listened to Mr. Rochester's narrative, but made no disclosure in return. The coincidence struck me as too awful and inexplicable to be communicated or discussed. If I told anything, my tale would be such as must necessarily make a profound impression on the mind of my hearer: and that mind, yet from its sufferings too prone to gloom, needed not the deeper shade of the supernatural. I kept these things then, and pondered them in my heart.

In spite of the fact that Jane is making a Biblical allusion with the last sentence, she actually does NOT claim that the incident of extra-sensory perception was from God, but rather earlier in the novel, attributes it to Nature:
"Down superstition!" I commented, as that spectre rose up black by the black yew at the gate. "This is not thy deception, nor thy witchcraft: it is the work of nature. She was roused, and did--no miracle--but her best."
And strangely, I may even have Carl Sagan in my corner, for as he said in his book "The Demon Haunted World: Science is a Candle in the Dark", published in March 1997:
Perhaps one percent of the time, someone who has an idea that smells, feels, and looks indistinguishable from the usual run of pseudoscience will turn out to be right. Maybe some undiscovered reptile left over from the Cretaceous period will indeed be found in Loch Ness or the Congo Republic; or we will find artifacts of an advanced, non-human species elsewhere in the Solar System. At the time of writing there are three claims in the ESP field which, in my opinion, deserve serious study:
(1) that by thought alone humans can (barely) affect random number generators in computers;
(2) that young children sometimes report the details of a previous life, which upon checking turn out to be accurate and which they could not have known about in any other way than reincarnation;
(3) that people under mild sensory deprivation can receive thoughts or images "projected" at them.
I pick these claims not because I think they're likely to be valid (I don't), but as examples of contentions that might be true. The last three have at least some, although still dubious, experimental support. Of course, I could be wrong.
Kurt Vonnegut, in "Breakfast of Champions" suggests something along the same lines - even closer to what I experienced:
Like all Earthlings at the point of death, Mary Young sent faint reminders of herself to those who had known her. She released a small cloud of telepathic butterflies, and one of these brushed the cheek of Dwayne Hoover, nine miles away.

Dwayne heard a tired voice from somewhere behind his head, even though no one was back there. It said this to Dwayne: "Oh my oh my."
I was about 43 miles from Earl Rich on Sunday morning, September 7, 1997. I was reading, or just daydreaming, sitting on the sofa in my living room. Behind me was a window looking out on the neighbors yard across the street. The neighbors had kids and often they could be noisy. I suddenly became aware of someone calling "Nancy.... Nancy... good-bye." I thought it was odd that one of the kids across the street would be calling my name, but I actually turned to look out and see if any kids were looking in the direction of my house. They were playing, not paying the least attention to me. I sort of shrugged, and thought of "Breakfast of Champions" and idly speculated about messages from people on the edge of death.

I was fairly absorbed the rest of the day. I was going to first rehearsals of the first play of mine to be given a full production. My play NEW RULES was to be part of the Philadelphia Fringe Festival. But driving into Philadelphia from Pennsauken, I had this really odd sense of melancholy, and I couldn't figure out why. That night I had a dream that someone was trying to tell me something.

The next day, Monday, I was going to lunch with some co-workers. Just as we were about to enter the restaurant I remembered my dream. I almost mentioned the dream to my friend Rebecca, but then thought - "how silly - who wants to hear about a dream about someone trying to tell you something?" So I didn't say anything. An hour or so later, I received a phone call from my friend Lorraine, who still worked at the company Earl worked at, and where I used to work.

She said that Earl had died in a motorcycle crash on Sunday morning.

I went into the bathroom and dry heaved, then went home. Only days later did I remember the odd sensations I had had the day he died.

I wrote this email to him on February 7, 1997, when I was about to take a new job and end my time as Earl's coworker:
No matter what else I feel about PTS, I'll always be glad I took the job, because I met so many wonderful pepole, and of course the ineffable, amazing, incomparable Earl Nelson Rich III. I've never met anyone like you, nor I guess ever will - a guy who gets along with raunchy, party-hearty dudes, yet who reads Nabakov and Pushkin. A guy who watches sports so he can talk to his dad. A guy who has the savoir-faire and charm of a social butterfly, yet blushes and looks faint when he's in a room with many women... a guy who's very democratic and unpretentious, and yet who has impeccable taste in clothing and accoutraments. You're so good at bolstering an ego, and so pleasant to be near, and give such good advice about both literary and personal issues (even though I didn't always take your advice!) I'll always think of you as the smart, beautiful, supportive older brother I never had (No need to dwell on the occasional bothersome incestuous urges!) I know I idealize you to an extent, but it's difficult not to sometimes. Maybe if we had continued to share an office we would've ended up getting on each other's nerves and I would've stopped idealizing you long ago,but who knows? You are capable of getting along with anyone. I hope I will always know you, somehow, even if only through occasional e-mails. The thought of you reminds me that the universe is capable of serendipitous sweetness. And truly, with all temerarious, unconsummatable, and rapturous folly, I do love you.

Your penpal


Monday, September 03, 2007

Midsummer Night's Dream @the Royal Botanical Garden

We saw The Pantaloon's production of A Midsummer Night's Dream at the Edinburgh Fringe this summer.

They did some interesting things with umbrellas, as you can see in this clip - using them as both props and as a sort of wings to hide the actors, and also to assist with scene changes.

They also took liberties with the text, which I usually don't like, but I thought it worked fairly well here. They seemed to be aiming at an audience of children, clearly, by the little interlude they have between the rude mechanicals scene (Act II Scene 1) and the first appearance of Puck (Act II scene 2) where they demonstrate how to be a scary tree - and a scary shrub - and invite the audience to participate.

Outdoor park performances of Shakespeare really can't be too literal about the text because of the vexations of the great outdoors. Too often the audience can't hear half of what the actors are saying, and since many in the audience are not familiar with Shakespeare to begin with, but rather happened upon the show while strolling through the park with their kids, understand only half of what they CAN hear. If that.

So I generally liked this production, what I heard of it. At the end of this clip, I became very chilled due to the combination of light drizzle and wind and the fact that it was already about 68 degrees F. The rest of the audience seemed to be better-acclimated and hung in there.

One quibble though - if you're aiming at children, you do have to be a bit literal about the casting and characters. I don't think children follow the changes that the characters undergo, from being a rude mechanical one minute, to a fairy the next, if you're going to use the same actors wearing the same clothes. There's only so much you can do with umbrellas.

Below is the section of the play they are doing in the clip.

... In the meantime I
will draw a bill of properties, such as our play
wants. I pray you, fail me not.

We will meet; and there we may rehearse most
obscenely and courageously. Take pains; be perfect: adieu.

At the duke's oak we meet.

Enough; hold or cut bow-strings.


SCENE I. A wood near Athens.

Enter, from opposite sides, a Fairy, and PUCK
How now, spirit! whither wander you?

Over hill, over dale,
Thorough bush, thorough brier,
Over park, over pale,
Thorough flood, thorough fire,
I do wander everywhere,
Swifter than the moon's sphere;
And I serve the fairy queen,
To dew her orbs upon the green.
The cowslips tall her pensioners be:
In their gold coats spots you see;
Those be rubies, fairy favours,
In those freckles live their savours:
I must go seek some dewdrops here
And hang a pearl in every cowslip's ear.
Farewell, thou lob of spirits; I'll be gone:
Our queen and all our elves come here anon.

The king doth keep his revels here to-night:
Take heed the queen come not within his sight;
For Oberon is passing fell and wrath,
Because that she as her attendant hath
A lovely boy, stolen from an Indian king;

Entire Midsummer Night's Dream here.

Sunday, September 02, 2007

Text Message Breakup

I am so behind the curve. I just heard about Liam Kyle Sullivan. This video doesn't really get going until minute 3:30 - and BONUS - Margaret Cho appears!

But now I can't stop thinking in my head: "shoes shoes shoes GAY"