Tuesday, May 31, 2011

next up for Mergatroyd Productions



Well it looks like I'll be able to complete the one-act version of the formerly 10-minute play MISTRESS ILSA in time to get it into the Midtown International Theatre Festival's Short Subjects. And here I thought I would have a relaxing summer.

I'll have to compare dominatrix play notes with David Ives at the Dramatists Guild conference next week. After all, I did offer to give him a prop bullwhip the day he sat in on the NYCPlaywrights meeting - he declined, he said he already had one. And then he went and wrote VENUS IN FUR. I'm not saying the two items are related, just... interesting.

Well it's been almost a year since the one-act version of JULIA & BUDDY was in the MITF, and I've been trying to come up with a new logo for the full-length version. The full-length is quite different from the one-act and I felt it deserved a new logo. And I've done about 20 different versions. But I don't like any better than the original logo. I don't know if that means I'm just an unimaginative graphic designer or I'm just so slick I did it right the first time.

In any case, I'll finally be doing that production this autumn. I was going to do it in the MITF, but decided it was cheap enough to produce it myself. Only two actors in the cast - why didn't I think of that before? For most off-off Broadway productions the bigger the cast the better because cast members invite friends & family to come to see the show - and the actors aren't getting paid. Once you start paying the actors, which I always do on principle even though I could probably get away with not paying - it changes the economics entirely.



Hm, JULIA & BUDDY and MISTRESS ILSA are very different plays... but their logos share similar color schemes. Maybe I'm just not that imaginative a graphic designer...

Monday, May 30, 2011

Lash up and stow



Why didn't I find this before? The Wikipedia Glossary of Nautical Terms!

"Lash up and stow" is a piped command to tie up hammocks and stow them (typically) in racks inboard of the ship's side to protect crew from splinters from shot and provide a ready means of preventing flooding caused by damage.

Although in this case it seems to be rather a prelude to getting one's drink on.

Sunday, May 29, 2011

The Intelligent Homosexual's Guide to STFU!!!



This blog post contains spoilers.

When I was watching Tony Kushner's THE INTELLIGENT HOMOSEXUAL'S GUIDE TO CAPITALISM AND SOCIALISM WITH A KEY TO THE SCRIPTURES I thought of David Mamet. Which was on the face of it rather strange - except for both being Jewish they have almost nothing in common, and I love Tony Kushner's political views for the most part and think that ANGELS IN AMERICA might be the best play of the 20th century.

Whereas David Mamet... well, I didn't think I could hold David Mamet in any lower esteem, but after this week's NYTimes interview it turns out I can. Although really, at this point I suspect Mamet is in the early stages of Alzheimer's - I mean WTF?
Q. You wrote that Karl Marx “never worked a day in his life.” But how is his writing “Das Kapital” fundamentally different from the way you make a living? You realize you’re not a plumber, right?

A. Jesus Christ. Listen, here’s the thing about an English degree — if you sat somebody down and asked them to make a list of the writers they admire over the last hundred years, see how many of them got a degree in English.
What an English degree and writers of the past hundred years have to do with Karl Marx, whom it is safe to say did not have an English degree, and has been dead for well over a hundred years, is a complete mystery.

So maybe it's time to pity Mamet rather than despise him.

Although it's hard to pity either Mamet or Kushner - anything they write will be produced. Mamet's RACE is one example - only in the theatre world can Mamet write such absurd paranoid right-wing dreck and not be called on it.

It's easier to see how bad Mamet's play is though, because the bad guy, the Black Woman is so insanely over-the-top bad: willing to sacrifice her law career to destroy a decent guy's law career (over the issue of false rape charges, as in OLEANNA) because she's vowed to Get Whitey since college.

iHo is not as easily pegged as ridiculous because Kushner's play has no villain, and also because he throws so much stuff into the play that it takes a little more time to see through to the fact that there is no there there.

But having a villain, Roy Cohn, ("the polestar of human evil") in ANGELS IN AMERICA is what made it work. ANGELS had a lot of stuff in it, a lot of characters, but the through-line of Roy Cohn's AIDS diagnosis and death brings it all together. That's why ANGELS works - the excellent plot. That's pretty much what makes any play that's considered a classic, work. HAMLET, OUR TOWN, PROOF all have excellent plots. I was listening to a radio play version of PROOF just last week and admiring how tight that plot is. There's virtually nothing out of place. I bet David Auburn went through lots of re-writes to get it like that.

But Kushner, like Mamet is so revered in the theatre world that neither of them have to do re-writes until the plot works, any more. So they don't. They are secular holy men, they can do no wrong. First draft, third draft, tenth draft - it will get produced at whatever draft they say it's done.

I hate to agree with the dread John Simon, now relegated in his dotage to the Yonkers Tribune but he's right:
Which brings me to the problem with the prevailing American mentality.‭ ‬It is so slavishly success-oriented that,‭ ‬once someone had a hit,‭ ‬as Kushner had with‭ Angels,‭ ‬he can blithely coast along on that indefinitely.‭ ‬Everything thereafter,‭ ‬even detritus like his current offering,‭ ‬will be hailed as a masterpiece.‭ ‬And as for the play‭’‬s alleged guide to the scriptures,‭ ‬that won‭’‬t wash either.‭ ‬Doesn‭’‬t the Bible condemn Onan for spilling his seed on the ground‭?


And speaking of strange bedfellows, Michael Feingold of the Village Voice, likes iHo no more than Simon:
Seeing all these arcana squeezed together evokes a comic strip, or a politicized version of Red Grooms’s “ruckuses”; it certainly doesn’t suggest the taut drama of a suicide watch. And indeed, despite all the sour, embittered fervor Cristofer brings the role, Gus hardly seems suicidal: Kushner’s elaborate contrivance of the family council and the sale of the brownstone seems as factitious as the blurry chronology the script gives Gus’s union career. (He appears to have made his way openly espousing Communism just when unions were expunging CP members from their ranks.) The other stories, each equally paper-thin in its details, seem merely to have a distant, hi-there connection with the central issue of Gus’s survival. Only Michael Greif’s scrupulous, thorough direction, and the passion in the largely excellent acting, allow IHoG’s narrative to bear any weight. In addition to Cristofer, Wehle’s plangent quietude and Freeman’s subtly escalating fury enhance the drama most. While Kushner’s words are flying, you may not notice how little his drama means.

To illustrate exactly what he means about paper-thin stories and meaninglessness: the suicidal dad's favorite child, M.T., is a lesbian with a pregnant domestic partner. Here are some related facts:

She has sex at least twice with her ex-husband and the pregnant domestic partner knows about it, but does nothing about it. So it adds nothing to the story.

The pregnant domestic partner was impregnated by the suicidal dad's youngest son, Vinnie. Everybody thinks it's from artificial insemination, but M.T.'s ex-husband reveals to everybody, including Vinnie's wife, that in fact the insemination was done in the old-fashioned way. Vinnie's wife just laughs. So it's meaningless to the plot.

The ex-husband - whom John Simon correctly describes as "too unappealing even for a heterosexual spouse,‭ ‬much less for a lesbian one,‭ ‬to seek him out for sex" - later reveals - for the second-intermission curtain line - that it was he who bought the family home and claims he got the idea from seeing a production of THE CHERRY ORCHARD and actually says "I bought the Cherry Orchard!" As the woman sitting next to me in the audience said: "I didn't see that coming."

But it turns out that this plot twist is utterly meaningless - soon after intermission, M.T. makes him give her the deed back. So what was the point?

The actor playing Vinnie however was hot hot hot - much hotter than the male prostitute character who is being paid by the Kushner avatar character PL for sex. But both these young male characters seemed to be inexplicably angry at times. I mean, they have gripes, like anybody, but both of them suddenly erupt into a shouting fit for no plot-related reasons, although they explain the causes of their anger, more or less. But it makes no dramatic sense.

But the absolutely most annoying and meaningless aspect of this play was the suitcase in the wall. The Vinnie character in his incoherent rage, punches a hole in the wall, and while trying to fix it pulls a suitcase out of the wall. He puts it on the dining room table. There are six or seven characters in the room at that point. Not ONE of them opens the suitcase. We don't find out what's in the suitcase until the end of the play. But I mean that's INSANE. If you find something old and buried in your house's wall the FIRST THING you're going to think is - there could be money in there!

There is no family on earth that would not IMMEDIATELY look into the suitcase. It was driving me crazy that they would all rather stand around and argue and ignore the suitcase.

It turns out there were a bunch of papers & stuff in the suitcase. Not really a big deal. It didn't have to be in the wall, at all, really, he could have just found it in a trunk and took it out to look at in time for the big plot wrap-up of the last scene.

One bright spot in the production is Danielle Skraastad,‭ whom I first discovered in a 5-person production of A MIDSUMMER NIGHT'S DREAM. John Simon ‬says she "‬comes across as a garrulous fishwife.‭" I won't quibble with him, not having a clear idea what a "fishwife" might be like - but she is funny as hell. She steals every scene she's in because she's so funny and direct. Her role isn't especially meaningful and there's no real reason given for why she just had regular hetero sex with her girlfriend's brother - although as a heterosexual I could certainly understand it, Steven Pasquale is, as I said, majorly hot. But since all the characters are more or less complete ciphers, her character doesn't stand out for that - but for having the best laugh lines.

If Kushner went back and threw out all this extraneous meaningless plot points he might have something good. But as it is, it's a self-indulgent mess.

And also the extended periods where everybody screamed at each other at the same time gave me a massive headache. This technique might have worked for twenty seconds, but it goes on for much longer than that. WTF? STFU!!!

Saturday, May 28, 2011

more ancient history



Speaking of historical documentation, here are three of Cecelia Young's great-great granddaughters in the home of her granddaughter Marie Smith Maguire. My grandmother married into a fairly well-to-do family - my grandfather Martin Maguire's father was a successful liquor merchant (who died in the influenza epidemic of 1918), and his mother was a Wolfington of the carriage builders Alexander Wolfington, Son & Company. Another fun genealogical fact - I'm the great-great-great granddaughter of John Wolfington, a sea captain from Nova Scotia. Unlike my great-great grandfather William Young, John Wolfington was not a ne'er-do-well, although if Willie the Whaler is any example he probably drank quite a bit.

Mae Wolfington did not like my grandmother, quite possibly because of her lower class background, but gave my grandparents a house anyway. It's on Robbins Avenue in Philadelphia and my grandmother donated it to a cancer organization on her death in 1987.

My cousin Tina posted this to her Facebook page and I couldn't resist posting it here. That's Tina on the left, me on the right, and my sister Eileen in front. Eileen is now the wife of a school principal, mother of twin girls and has a very successful career as a salewoman for American Greetings Co. She's been working for American Greetings since she got out of college. So she's a paragon of middle-class success and stability - but this picture captures what she was like back then. The "imma cut a bitch" expression in this photo was not unusual for the time, as I recall.

end of the deposition

The special examiner questions Cecelia:
Have you had any property or any means of any character after the death of your husband William H. Young?

A. No sir, I have never owned any property of any kind and I have had no means of income from any source except the wages of myself and the children. My husband had no property of any kind and left nothing to anybody. His life was not insured.

Q. What evidence can you offer that you did not know that Pfingstag had a living wife when he married you; that you were never divorced from Wm H. Young and that you have not been married and have not lived with any man in marriage relations except to the two men you have stated?

A. I can prove those things by my sister Lydia F. Mitchell, and by John A. Pfingstag, the man I was illegally married to.

Q. Do you positively swear that you did not know when you married John A. Pfingstag, or until the day the Priest told you that you must leave him, that he had a living and undivorced wife?

A. Yes sir, I do so swear. I supposed up to the very day he confessed to the Priest that his wife was dead, as that is what he had told me and I had no reason to doubt him. No sir, Pfingstag is not a Catholic but he confessed to the Priest that his wife was not dead, and that was the first I knew of the fact.

I wish to be present during the examination of my claim for pension. I fully understand the contents of this deposition and my anwsers have been correctly recorded herein.

(her signature)

Sworn and subscribed before me this 4th. day of February 1904. and I certify the contents were fully made known to deponent before signing.

(his signature)
Special Examiner.


That's the end of the deposition except for the attached Civil War volunteer enlistment form.

My cousin Lorraine also tracked down the government's response to this deposition which I'll post later... she also tells me that Cecelia's brother committed suicide - more bad luck. He lived in Weehawken NJ of all places - I used to live in Weehawken.

Next though I have to write about Tony Kushner's THE INTELLIGENT HOMOSEXUAL'S GUIDE TO CAPITALISM AND SOCIALISM WITH A KEY TO THE SCRIPTURES which I saw Thursday night.

Friday, May 27, 2011

(he) was good to me except that he would get on a spree occasionally

So once again bad luck hit Cecelia Young. And more to come. But at least Pfingstag was not entirely dishonorable. In many ways he was a good guy, which must have made it even harder for Cecelia Young to leave him....
No sir, I have never lived with Pfingstag a day after our separation. I did not see him more than a half dozen times after our separation. I had to go and see him as a witness in my pension claim, and another time I got him to go with my son to the asylum at Norristown because my boy would not go without him. He thought a great deal of my children and could manage the boy when I could not. Those two times are the only times I have been to his place since our separation about 12 or 14 years ago. I cannot tell the year of our separation.

This is the most amazing date memory lapse yet. She was on her deathbed, her priest tells her she's married bigamously, and she moves to Atlantic City to run a boarding house in that year. You'd think that would be one year she would remember! But then she does remember...
My daughter Annie died at Atlantic City in September 1888 and it was the May before that time that I left Pfingstag. Yes, I am sure of the date now. After my marriage to Pfingstag he started a barber shop at 64 Springhurst St. When we separated he sold his shop out for $150. and gave me one half of it and I went to Atlantic City and he remained there and worked for the man he sold to and has been with him ever since that time, so far as I know. Yes sir, Pfingstag was good to my children and gave us good support and was good to me except that he would get on a spree occasionally. I have no knowledge of his family now. No sir, he never gave me anything since our separation. He gave me all the furniture in our house where we lived in addition to the $75 cash that he got from the sale of his shop.
So in 1888 she broke up with her bigamous husband, moved to Atlantic City in May and her daughter Annie died in September.

In spite of his "sprees" Pfingstag was at least honorable, selling his barber shop to give Cecelia some money to try her luck somewhere else. I don't know why she quit the boarding house business after three years, although according to the Atlantic City map, Mississippi Avenue is about as far away from the boardwalk as you can get and still be in Atlantic City. I guess seventy-five bucks goes only so far, even in 1888. Next she is questioned by the special examiner...

Thursday, May 26, 2011

let's all be big for a change

So I ended the deposition yesterday where Cecelia Young reveals that she married John A. Pfingstag. Our story continues...
I had known Pfingstag two or three years before our marriage. He was a barber and used to take meals at my house and also roomed there a couple of months. He roomed with me before my husband died and in fact was rooming at my house when my husband came home and made the row that I have mentioned. I also done all Mr. Pfingstag's sewing and mending for him. My husband was a very jealous man and he made soon a row when he come home that time that I had to break up house keeping on his account. I lived in marriage relations with Mr. Pfingstag three years after our marriage but had no children by him.
So it looks like Cecelia might finally be getting a break. Pfingstag seems much more stable than her husband - although granted that's not a high bar. But then....
Finally I got very sick and was expected to die. We were then living at 64 Springhurst St. Germantown, where he had a barbershop. While I was sick Father Henley of the St. Vincent de Paul Church came to see me and while he was there he asked me if Pfingstag did not have a living wife and I said that Pfingstag had told me his wife was dead when he married me so Father Henley asked him about it and he said his wife was yet living so Father Henley told me that I must leave Pfingstag as soon as I got up and I did so. When I was able to get out I went to Atlantic City and started a boarding house at 1612 Mississippi Ave., where I remained three years.
It's heart-breaking how things turned out - first her husband was a ne'er-do-well, and then her second husband was a rapscallion.
No sir, I never lived with Pfingstag again nor have I ever remarried or lived with any man since that separation. No sir, I never took any legal steps to have my marriage with Pfingstag set aside or declared null and void. No sir, I never saw Pfingstag's wife but I was told that her name was Annie or Mary Moore. She lived some place up country as I was told. All I know is what Pfingstag told me and he said she is married again.
At first I assumed this meant that after Cecelia and Pfingstag broke up, eventually Pfinstag's legal marriage also broke up and Ms. Moore got remarried. However...
He said they were never divorced but that he was regularly married to her at Pottstown where she was then living. He claimed to me that he never lived with her and that he was married to her while under the influence of liquor. They had no children. I cannot tell you anything about his people but I think he has a sister living in Chester, I think. I do not remember her name now. No sir, I never knew that Pfingstag had a living wife when we were married. I knew he had been married before but he told me his wife was dead and I believed him. He was never married but once before his marriage to me, as he told me. Pfingstag had been in the U.S. Navy a number of years after the war. No sir, he never got a pension to my knowledge.

Well, just because Pfingstag didn't drink as much as my great-great grandfather doesn't mean he never drank...

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

...he kicked up a row so I moved away to get rid of him.

Continuing directly where I left off on my great-great grandmother's deposition... she had just revealed that she had her husband jailed for non-support but let him out after his mother requested it.
He then went away and I did not see him again for a year and a half. He then came back and wanted me to live with him again but I refused to do so and he kicked up a row so I moved away to get rid of him. He followed me around so finally he came there to the house sometime in the fall of 1876, I think it was, and I took him in but he would not work and finally after about six months I broke up and moved away and left him. I never saw him afterward.

My said husband, William H. Young, was killed somewhere up country by falling out of a Wagon, as I understood. I do not remember what year that occurred but I think it was sometime in 1879 or 1880. I do not remember the place where he was killed. His body was brought to his mother's house from which place he was buried. His mother was then living in this city but I do not know the street she then lived on but it was down town around 4th and Poplar Sts. I do not know who the undertaker was that buried him, but he was buried in Odd Fellows cemetery, I think. I did not attend his funeral but I sent all four of my children to the funeral and my daughter can tell you now all about that. My said husband has no relatives now living except a sister Wilhelmina Miller who lives on N. Reese St. No sir, neither I or my husband were ever divorced nor did we ever apply for a divorce after our said separation. No sir, there was no papers drawn up between us for separation. I do not know if he ever lived with any other woman after he left or not. I knew nothing about him for three or four years before his death. He was a very dissipated man during the last years of his life. I do not knew whether he ever applied for a pension or not. We were married just before he went into the army but he had never been in the army before our marriage. My parents had to support me while he was in the army. No sir, I did not live with any man in the marriage relation after my said husband separated from me. My four children were then living and I kept them with me and supported them. At the time my husband died I was living in rooms on Boudinot St. with a young married couple named Joseph Wallace and his wife. After my husband died I remained a widow until I married John A. Pfingstag, but I do not remember the date of my marriage to him although I have furnished a certificate of the fact.

Like I said, she was terrible with dates. She doesn't remember even the year that her said husband died. Now granted they were very much estranged, and she didn't even attend his funeral. But she doesn't remember the date of her second marriage either.

Well my great-great grandfather certainly was "dissipated" - if he was twenty-four in 1864 then he was only 39 or 40 when he died. How sad. And he made his family's life a hell too, following his wife around then refusing to work - probably too drunk to work. She moved away twice to get rid of him.

Cecelia Young made it very clear to the special examiner that when her husband died she was still married to him and therefore eligible for a pension. But then she married Pfingstag, which might have jeopardized the pension. But Pfingstag had a secret...

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

...but he smoked cigarettes and the doctors think that is what caused the insanity

My great-great grandmother Cecelia Young did not have an easy life, that is made clear by the deposition that she filed. The original is in the National Archives and my cousin Lorraine tracked it down. In addition to the Volunteer Enlistment paper that I posted yesterday, there are four other typed legal-sized pages. It is a five-page tale of woe. It begins:
On this Fourth day of February, 1904, at Philadelphia, County of Philadelphia, State of Penna. before me, Geo. D. Sidman, a special examiner of the Bureau of Pensions personally appeared Cecelia V. Young, who, being by me first duly sworn to answer truly all interrogations propounded to her during this special examination of aforesaid claim for pension, deposes and says: I am 58 years of age; my post office address is 4307 Leiper St., Philadelphia Pa.
I have no regular occupation except working out at days work. My maiden name was Cecelia Virginia McAleer. I was born and raised in this city and have always resided here. I was married to William H. Young on April 3, 1864, by Rev. Father Toner of the St. Michaels R. C. Church of this city. Neither Mr. Young or myself were ever married before our said marriage on April 3, 1864. I had four children by Mr. Young, two of whom are yet living, to wit: Mary C. Smith, wife of Geo B. Smith who live in the same house with me now. My other child is named Joseph Daniel Young who was born February 14, 1874, I think. This son has been insane for the past five years and is now an inmate of the Norristown Insane Asylum where he has been confined for two years past. He was in the Philadelphia Hospital (Almshouse) three years before that time. His insanity was due to an injury he received by falling from a sled and hurting his head, as one doctor said, but he smoked cigarettes and the doctors think that is what caused the insanity.

So she had four children and outlived two of them. The two remaining were my grandmother's mother, Mary Cecelia Smith, and "Uncle Joe" as my mother always called him. Uncle Joe clearly sustained some type of brain-damage, although the story my mother told me was that a hanging store sign fell on his head, so I have to find out why the discrepancy.

In any case by the time my mother knew him, Uncle Joe was in his 70s. He apparently was let out of the Norristown Insane Asylum because by the time my mother was a little girl he was living in the basement of his sister Mary's ("Nanna" to my mother) house, mumbling to himself. My mother would be sent to the basement to fetch canned goods for dinner and said she would run down and run back up again as quick as she could, terrified to spend any time with Uncle Joe. He liked to use his disability to his advantage though. My mother reports that whenever he was asked to do a chore or run an errand he would say "you know I got a weak nut!" Nut in this case being of course his head.

I was amazed to read the second diagnosis. What quacks would tell my great-great grandmother that her son was insane due to cigarette smoking? Could it be possible this was a medical consensus? Yet by the middle of the century, doctors were advertising for cigarettes. So it seems truly strange that in 1904 some doctors said that they caused insanity.

Also very strange - her son was born on Valentine's day 1874 - she thinks. She has other date lapses later on in the deposition. Did she too have a weak nut, or were calendars just that hard to come by?

The deposition continues immediately after the above section:
When my said son was about six months old my husband had become so dissipated that I had to have him arrested for non-support and he was sent to Moyamensing Prison where he remained a month and then his mother begged me to let him out so I did.
This is also very curious - apparently you could have your husband sent to prison for non-support and you had the power to release him. I'd never heard of this before.

Clearly William H. Young was an alcoholic and ne'er-do-well. More about that tomorrow.


Monday, May 23, 2011

How Cecelia McAleer Young got her Civil War pension



My mother showed me some fascinating family documents today.

The image above is the Civil War Volunteer Enlistment form signed by my great-great grandfather William H. Young to join the Union cause. It says:
I, William H. Young, born in Philadelphia in the State of Pennsylvania, aged Twenty Four years and by occupation a Brass Moulder, DO HEREBY ACKNOWLEDGE to have volunteered this Fourteenth day of March 1864 to serve as a Soldier in the Army of the United States of America, for the period of THREE YEARS, unless sooner discharged by proper authority: Do also agree to accept such bounty, pay, rations, and clothing as are, or may be, established by law for volunteers. And I William H. Young do solemnly swear, that I will bear true faith and allegiance to the United States of America, and that I will serve them honestly and faithfully against all their enemies or opposers whomsoever; and that I will observe and obey the orders of the President of the United States, and the orders of the officers appointed over me, according to the Rules and Articles of War.

He joined the 72nd Regiment of Pennsylvania Volunteers. They fought at Gettysburg and Antietam, among others, although both those famous battles happened before he joined.

I don't have any photos of this great-great-grandfather, but this form describes him as having blue eyes, brown hair, a dark complexion and he's 5'7" - which was a little shorter than the average height for Civil War soldiers of 5'8".

I don't know how good a soldier he was - good enough to receive a pension. But he was not such a good husband, which is why this proof of his Civil War enlistment was so important to Cecelia McAleer Young's claim to her share of his pension. I have the deposition form in which she reveals many interesting facts about my mom's side of the family. More about this tomorrow.

Sunday, May 22, 2011

more shouting from Willie



When we last saw Willie he was shouting through his bullhorn for everybody to wake up and start drinking. In this picture Willie doesn't have a bullhorn, but then he doesn't have a whole barrel this time, just a big pitcher on the capstan. But he's still yelling though.

A capstan is "is a vertical-axled rotating machine developed for use on sailing ships to apply force to ropes, cables, and hawsers. The principle is similar to that of the windlass, which has a horizontal axle." And also apparently a good place to put your close-reef - a term that has something to do with shortening the topsail - I can't find any usage online where close-reef means alcoholic beverage. Perhaps that and sea-breeze were Whaler Bar specialities.

The wonderful uses of evolutionary psychology

Blog comments on posts about gender invariably give you a sense of just how popular evolutionary psychology is as a justification for male privilege. The NYTimes ran an article about the culture of harassment at the IMF, and this comment illustrates how it works:

Genetically and culturally, most men are always in the prowl for women (which doesn't necessarily mean that it is done in an overt or unwelcomed manner), and despite the abundance of sanctimonious comments we might read or hear about, the overwhelming majority of women, love it!

The "genetics made them do it" explanation is often used by people who don't actually know the term is "evolutionary psychology" but they know that there's a general theory out there that when men behave badly, they are just expressing their natural natures as full-blooded he-man males.

You can see why many men will use anything, including the pseudo-science of evolutionary psychology to try to bolster the cause of male privilege. Privilege is nice to have, and a real ego-boost. It's the ego-enhancing effects of traditional male privilege that convinced Dominique Strauss-Kahn and his lawyers that they could get away with claiming that a gross old man like Strauss-Kahn can accost a maid busy making her rounds and immediately have "consensual" sex.

Certainly there are plenty of women who will prostitute themselves to ugly old men in exchange for money and other perks, but not the majority, by any means.

But morons like the commenter quoted above persist in believing that the "majority" of women "love it" when men are on the prowl. A woman loves it when a man that she likes is on the prowl for her. But most women don't want most of the men who are on the prowl - especially the old men at government institutions like the IMF. But it's the delusions of male privilege that make these old men persist in the belief that women - especially young women - want them for their personal charms.

The maid's allegation is that Dominique Strauss-Kahn came out of the shower naked after her. I've seen pictures of Strauss-Kahn and it makes me sick to think about it. The only way it could have been consensual is if she was a prostitute. Once Strauss-Kahn's lawyers' realize that most people - especially women - are laughing at the idea of consensual sex with Strauss-Kahn, I wouldn't be a bit surprised if their next strategy is to try to paint the maid as a prostitute.

Maids have to put up with plenty of shit from male hotel guests.


'Allo baybee, Ah know you wanna see me nahked, hawn hawn hawn!

Saturday, May 21, 2011

Evolutionary Psychology cottage industry

Some guy, Andrew Badenoch tweeted about me way back in December and I just found out about it today.

I'm such a lazy tweeter - if that isn't redundant. I hardly ever do it, and I've never bothered to fully explore all the features of Twitter. Mainly because I'm too busy blogging. So I didn't realize that there was an @Mention feature until today. It lists any time somebody mentions your nom de tweet. And I found this:

evolvify Andrew Badenoch http://j.mp/eu4QJs VS. This: RT @nancymcclernan: evolutionary psychology is complete crap. http://t.co/TmGnRJ5

I'm not entirely sure what the point is - I linked to a standard just-so evolutionary psychology piece and he linked - "versus" that - to an article with the standard EP party line, that anybody who objects to the conclusions of evolutionary psychologists are doing so only on the basis of political correctness.

"The fish stinks from the head" as they say - certainly a coworker has said this about our mutual boss at almost every job I've had. I had an argument with uber-evolutionary psychologist Steven "Blank Slate" Pinker via email way back when and he said this of Stephen Jay Gould:
The criticisms of Stephen Jay Gould have been extensively addressed in my writings and others, and I believe they stem more from his political ideology than from the empirical literature.

Apparently you can't hold political views - certainly not if you're left-leaning - without having those views taint your scientific opinions.

I blogged just the other day that other big-wig EP-promoters Daniel Dennett and Richard Dawkins also have non-science problems with Gould.

But what else can they do? Gould was a prominent evolutionary biologist, nobody could claim he was anti-science. The only possible way to neutralize his in-depth critique of evolutionary psychology - even at the level of his arguments against strict adaptationism - is to say that it's because he was a socialist.

After I tweeted about the Badenoch tweet, the guy himself immediately visited this blog and then tweeted back for this fairly typical EP-type exchange:

evolvify Andrew Badenoch
@nancymcclernan don't remember that, but i do sometimes mention science deniers.
37 minutes ago Favorite Retweet Reply

nancymcclernan Nancy McClernan
@evolvify - it's a typical pro-EP talking point that the only people who disagree with EP are anti-science. What a load of shit.
33 minutes ago

evolvify Andrew Badenoch
@nancymcclernan dismiss the field of behavioral ecology too & we'll talk. otherwise it's the same anthropocentrism creationists practice.
26 minutes ago

nancymcclernan Nancy McClernan
@evolvify - you just have the entire list of standard EP talking points, don't you? Does the UCSB or the LSE issue a weekly list?
22 minutes ago

evolvify Andrew Badenoch
@nancymcclernan you have the standard "just ain't so stories" and vapid rhetoric. yawn.
20 minutes ago

nancymcclernan Nancy McClernan
@evolvify - but I see you have your own little cottage industry based on EP - better defend that cash cow
16 minutes ago

evolvify Andrew Badenoch
@nancymcclernan i challenge you to do it without a single political plea, ad hominem, or other rhetoric -- scientific arguments only. enjoy.
8 minutes ago

Nancy McClernan
@nancymcclernan Nancy McClernan
@evolvify - I've done it dozens of times already - but then so has Gould, Coyne, Harris, Ferguson, Spelke etc. etc. etc.


It goes on from there - I think you can view it on Twitter if you're really interested. It's hard as hell to have a tweet debate.

For the uninitiated, UCSB stands for the University of California at Santa Barbara, specifically their Center for Evolutionary Psychology, the Mecca of evolutionary psychology and LSE is the London School of Economics, the British version. Virtually all the big names in evolutionary psychology are associated with one or both of these.

Badenoch later said that he was going to discount my work since my "stuff" isn't scientific. I do have a blog devoted to Cultural Materialism although I always disgracefully neglect it. And much of what I've posted is more about anti-evolutionary psychology than about cultural materialism. I first learned of evolutionary psychology (or its direct ancestor, sociobiology) from Marvin Harris, the leading proponent until his death in 2001 of cultural materialism.

I really need to have a central location for all my evolutionary psychology resources, arguments etc. For example, I need to post a full-blown critique, once and for all, of Helena Cronin's inane policy paper-turned-newspaper article "Pity the Poor Men." I debated Cronin's co-author Oliver Curry years ago via email and I debated Richard Dawkins over this in a Pharyngula comments thread. I bailed out of that too early but I had too much else to do, like learn how to program a database/javascript/PHP-driven web site, to give the debate enough attention. But I regret it because that was probably my only chance to address Dawkins directly on the subject. But if I ever do again, it would be most efficient to have all my arguments over Cronin's paper laid out in advance.

(I also think Dawkins holds a grudge against Gould because of Gould's scathing review of Helena Cronin's "The Ant and the Peacock." Only a little bit of which is available online for free.)

I write about EP every now and then here on Heavens to Mergatroyd, and one way to organize those posts is to have a label - so from now on I will label all posts about evolutionary psychology accordingly.

I'm certainly at a disadvantage, time-wise, when it comes to debating Andrew Badenoch. His web site evolvify looks like an effort to turn evolutionary psychology into a cottage industry. He's selling diet books that appear to have something to do with evolution - "Body by Evolution" to be precise.

And like any good snake-oil salesman, Badenoch is here to tell yah that evolutionary psychology has a hundred and one uses: Evolutionary Applications to Marketing.

So the promotion of evolutionary psychology isn't just a scientific exploration for Badenoch - it's a business, and any time he spends debating me is a tax write-off.

Well, salesmen will always make more money than debunkers. It's funny that EPs so often claim that debunkers of EP have ulterior motives - politics - considering how much money proponents of EP stand to make through telling people what they want to hear. For in spite of the gains of feminism there are still massive numbers of people who want to believe in gender essentialism and will buy anything that tells them that yes, everything they were raised to believe about the proper roles of men and women is absolutely true and in fact, ordained by evolution (now that ordained by God no longer has the power it once did.)

Oh, and what does this untainted-by-political-views (unlike Stephen Jay Gould) Andrew Badenoch think about feminists? Big surprise - not much:

But in this case, the “f word” in question is “feminism”, so humor will be optional at best.
I find it telling that he tries to support the old tired idea that feminists have no sense of humor by linking to that idiotic article by Christopher Hitchens that I just blogged about. Because Hitchens didn't say that feminists have no sense of humor, he said that women aren't funny. It's right there in the title of the piece. But I guess that Badenoch was in such a rush to attack feminists he just grabbed the first thing that was handy.

And to get an idea of the scientific level that Badenoch is operating on, check out his glowing review of a book by Louann Brizendine. He writes:

Brizedine is not above reviewing the basics: “We may think we’re a lot more sophisticated than Fred or Wilma Flintstone, but our basic mental outlook and equipment are the same.” While this book will be of interest to anyone who wonders why men and women are so different, it will be particularly useful for women and parents of girls.

To give you some idea of Brizendine's standards of research:

But by a unanimous vote, this year's Becky goes to the psychiatrist Louann Brizendine, whose bestselling book The Female Brain argues that most of the cognitive and social differences between the sexes are due to differences in brain structure. It's a controversial thesis. The New York Times's David Brooks and others have hailed the book as a challenge to feminist dogma, and Brizendine herself has charged that her critics are angry because her conclusions aren't politically correct. Actually, though, you can leave out the "politically" part. The reviewers for the British science journal Nature described the book as "riddled with scientific errors." And in newspaper commentaries and posts on the LanguageLog blog, the University of Pennsylvania linguist Mark Liberman has been meticulously debunking Brizendine's claims about men's and women's language.


As far as my own sources in support of the debunking of the Flintstones claims of evolutionary psychology, I have many, but I have three favorites:
  • Materialist, cultural and biological theories on why Yanomami make war by R. Brian Ferguson. Ferguson was a student of Marvin Harris and worked closely with him to refine cultural materialist theories. NOTE - the link will open up a PDF document. If you have any interest in theories of human culture and behavior you need to read this.

  • Adapting Minds, Evolutionary Psychology and the Persistent Quest for Human Nature by David J. Buller. I wrote this book report on it - although I still haven't finished it. But it has such important information about the failings of evolutionary psychology. My review discusses Buller's critique of the work of David Buss (Richard Dawkins wrote the intro for Buss's EP textbook) who goes so far as to misrepresent virtual female sex-slavery as female sexual preference.

  • What Comes Naturally by Louis Menand. This review of Steven Pinker's book "The Blank Slate" is the most accessible of these three and a good introduction to Evolutionary Psychology Debunking 101. Well-written, logical and entertaining. I can't resist quoting:

    Having it both ways is an irritating feature of "The Blank Slate." Pinker can write, in refutation of the scarecrow theory of violent behavior, "The sad fact is that despite the repeated assurances that 'we know the conditions that breed violence,' we barely have a clue," and then, a few pages later, "It is not surprising, then, that when African American teenagers are taken out of underclass neighborhoods they are no more violent or delinquent than white teenagers." Well, that should give us one clue. He sums the matter up: "With violence, as with so many other concerns, human nature is the problem, but human nature is also the solution." This is just another way of saying that it is in human nature to socialize and to be socialized, which is, pragmatically, exactly the view of the "intellectuals."



Debunking the wacky claims of evolutionary psychology is certainly a passion of mine, but it's not a lucrative one - rather I lose money on it. And I have to balance my time with a regular 9-5 day job and my other passion, playwriting. One of these days I'm going to write that biography of Marvin Harris though...

More dirty sexy fun with Pigpen

I mentioned in yesterday's post that Pigpen liked to sometimes ad-lib during performances of "Turn on Your Lovelight" and sometimes it's pretty funny and pretty naughty. The Dead's performance in the University gymnasium at SUNY Stony Brook on October 30, 1970, for example - at minute 8:01 in the recording located at the link he goes:

Now I wanna talk to you fellas. All the mens in the house this evening, I wanna tell you something. Now I know you standing around and you might have a little girl next door to you, say ah, don't look bad. So you go through all kinda changes trying to get her to go home wizzyah, and yah blow it. I'll tell you what you do, all you got to do is say "hey, what's your name? Let's fuck." Now if that don't work, next thing you do is to tell this fool to get off the organ" (I think he's referring to himself) "No - what you do is take your hands out of your pockets, quit playing pocket pool and lemmee hear how they sound when they go like that" (he claps his hands) "is that all you can do? Now come on folks - I want all you mens down here - wait a minute! Wait a minute! Wait a minute! I want all you fellows who are sitting down I want everybody down here that's sitting down, I want you to stand up. Ain't nobody gonna hurt you, it's just us. Now you folks, I say you, why don't you stand up? Stand up - yeah, your buddies too. Get on up. You, I say you - you got to get up - get on your feet. Alright that's better, I wanna see what your hands can do... well keep on... you - you ain't doing nothing... ah hahh - well alright!"
This is especially fun to listen to while you're in the middle of a deadly dull technical manual in the land of the Blueshirts.

Although the best part of this song's performance might be at the very end when it sounds like they're blowing up a gong.

Listen to it here.

Friday, May 20, 2011

I know you rider, in the Biblical sense

I've been listening to alot of Grateful Dead lately - I blogged about the massive live Dead at Archive.org. Dead concerts are perfect for listening to while working - they went on for hours and some individual songs went for close to an hour. And then there are the infamous Dead solos.

I've never been a huge Dead fan, but I did see them live in Philadelphia when I was in high school - this concert as a matter of fact. I don't remember much of the music though, just sort of wandering around the concert hall with Rob Denhardt (RIP - he died suddenly of a congenital heart problem in the 1990s. We were never more than friends, but he dated two good friends of mine.)

I've become a sort of connoisseur of "Turn on Your Love Light" - I first heard it on the recordings of the two shows that Janis Joplin did with the Dead, but the Dead performed it many more times, and most of those are available on Archive.org. It eventually became their big show-ending song, and most versions are at least twenty minutes long. Their Woodstock version clocks in at 38:23.

It was Pigpen's song, and after he died they didn't do it nearly as much. I've been sticking with the Pigpen versions because you can tell he loves it so much.

Most versions of Lovelight start out with the standard lyrics:

Without a warning you broke my heart, takin' it baby, tore it apart
And you left me standin' in the dark, said your love for me was dyin'.

Come on baby, baby please come on baby, cause I'm on my knees.
Turn on your lights let it shine on me shine on your love light
Let it shine on me let shine, let it shine, let it shine.

When I get lonely in the middle of the night
And I need you darlin' to make things alright

So come on baby, baby please and I'm beggin' you baby cause I'm on my knees,
Turn on your lights let it shine on me
Turn on your love light let it shine on me
Let it shine, let it shine, let it shine.

Without a warning you broke my heart, takin' it baby, tore it apart
And you left me standin' in the dark, shine your love for me was dark.

Come on baby, baby please come on baby, cause I'm on my knees.
Turn on your lights let it shine on me shine on your love light
Let it shine on me let shine, let it shine, let it shine.


Sometimes Pigpen talks to the crowd - often exhorting the young men to take their hands out of their pockets - even telling them to "stop playing that pocket pool" and speak to the young lady next to them. On a few occasions he picks out members of the audience and tries to match-make.

Mostly though, in addition to the usual lyrics he does several bluesy-phrases:


"I don't want it all, I jusa want a little bit"

"Now wait a minute - I wanna tell you something - about my baby - how she make me feel. I wanta tell you just a little bit, I'm not gonna tell you all"

"Sometimes, early in the morning, just before the day is dawning, I just git, a little bit lonesome. I reach over my left shoulder, gotta make her feel pretty good. And if I get lonesome anytime, I got my baby by my side."

He sometimes refers to his baby as his "rider." And in fact in many Dead song performances the term rider is synonymous with lover. They do another song called "I Know You Rider" (it is often paired with China Cat Sunflower.) Here's a live performance from Youtube. Pigpen is in the back, on keyboards, and you can barely see him.



The Grateful Dead was hugely influential in the 1960s and much of that culture lives on, but the term "rider" for sex partner is never used these days, as far as I'm aware.

I really do enjoy Pigpen's take on the song - it's sort of down and dirty blues - and he's pretty hot. He seems to have gone through a fat biker period in his early 20s, but by his mid-20s he slimmed down considerably for a wiry cowboy look (as in the picture above) and has a real "dirty-sexy" appeal as my friend Amanda calls it.


The term rider - or "easy rider" was referenced as a Mae West innuendo in her song "I Wonder Where My Easy Rider's Gone?" No doubt like most good stuff in American culture it comes originally from American Black culture.

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Christopher Hitchens - the "women aren't funny" guy

Christopher Hitchens was once a respected left-wing author, and a regular columnist for The Nation magazine.

But I never heard of Christopher Hitchens until he decided to become a supporter of George W. Bush and the Iraq war. It was from one of the original political blogs, Media Whores Online that I first became aware of Hitchens (as reported in Slate):
Christopher feels tainted by answering questions about his funding sources, but not by his willingness to accuse people of rape without proof, by his friendships with Nazi revisionists, or by his stunning betrayals of trusting friends. Go figure.

And why would Christopher believe we would hesitate to pass along his vague comments, unedited? We publish the rantings of Clinton-obsessed Freeper types like himself all the time. (And what does he mean by "real sites"? What does he think MWO is -- some whatever-induced figment?)

Well, that whole fact-finding mission seems to have been a wasted effort. As with Horowitz's lackluster denial, this one seems just as purposefully ambiguous. But what Hitchens has made perfectly clear is that, if he is not already accepting money for doing Scaife's dirty work - he likely would.

Seems like a distinction without a difference. That is, basically he's a whore who claims to be unable to attract customers, but nonetheless stands on the corner night after night, hoping his luck will change -- and even used his response to our open letter to seek offers for his services.

Good luck on that book tour, Christopher! And, sure -- we'll keep in touch.

Write to The Nation and ask them why a progressive publication promotes someone of the caliber of Hitchens, who defends Holocaust deniers and solicits offers from the likes of Richard Mellon Scaife.


And then Hitchens quit the Nation, prompting this exchange between himself and Katha Pollitt. The last paragraph of Pollitt's response is my favorite:
As Nation readers know only too well, I am always complaining about the magazine. It isn't perfect. Still, why single out as representative of our politics Alexander Cockburn, Gore Vidal and Norman Mailer (who, a search of our archives reveals, has never appeared in our pages) and not, oh, I don't know, Tony Kushner, Patricia Williams, Marc Cooper or Ellen Willis? Given your recent stint on Andrew Sullivan's blog, not to mention appearances over the years in a flock of right-wing publications, I'd think you'd want to be careful about promoting the idea of guilt by association. In any case, the real issue isn't about writers or magazines--it's about guns and power. You've placed yourself quite forthrightly on the side of Bush, Cheney, Perle and Wolfowitz, whose plans to remake the entire Arab world long predate 9/11, and who seem completely unembarrassed by their own shifting rationales for invading Iraq. (Not even they, however, claim it has anything to do with opposing religious fanaticism. That is your own delusion.) These are your new friends, an Administration that supports with mad vigor everything you excoriated in Clinton--capital punishment, the drug war, punitive welfare reform, privatizing the public realm, letting corporations run wild--while pandering to the Christian right, blasting the environment, withdrawing from international agreements from Kyoto to Cairo and remodeling the federal judiciary to resemble a meeting of the John Birch Society. I think I'll stay right here.


Lately Hitchens's big issue is atheism - or rather New Atheism. And in spite of the fact that I've been an atheist since I was at least sixteen, I dislike all the New Atheists (except Victor Stenger, about whom I know almost nothing):
  • Richard Dawkins - promoter of evolutionary psychology, and despises Stephen Jay Gould (the most prominent critic of evolutionary psychology until his death in 2002) so much that he shared this one-sided tale about the alleged rudeness of Gould in the Pharyngula blog comments section. Well after Gould was too dead to give his side of the story.

  • Daniel Dennett - another promoter of evolutionary psychology, and also despises Stephen Jay Gould, mainly for the scathing review Gould gave of Dennett's "Darwin's Dangerous Idea" in the New York Review of Books. Their post-review exchange can be read here. Dennett comes off as a sorehead and more interested in attacking Gould personally than in defending his own scientific theories. Or as Gould succinctly observes:
    Finally, however, I am simply amazed that Dennett had no more to say in his defense than, "Let me say a word about 'Darwinian fundamentalism.' Nonsense."

  • Sam Harris - supports the use of torture and argues that unlike the Christian Bible (with its crazed pathological Old Testament deity), the Koran is uniquely responsible for causing believers to perform violent acts.

  • Christopher Hitchens - for obvious reasons.


Considering that Hitchens hobnobs with big-time promoters of evolutionary psychology, I was surprised how little use he made of its tenets in his Vanity Fair article Why Women Aren't Funny. The best he can do does not even come up to the level of an evolutionary psychology just-so story
Childbearing and rearing are the double root of all this, as Kipling guessed. As every father knows, the placenta is made up of brain cells, which migrate southward during pregnancy and take the sense of humor along with them. And when the bundle is finally delivered, the funny side is not always immediately back in view. Is there anything so utterly lacking in humor as a mother discussing her new child? She is unboreable on the subject. Even the mothers of other fledglings have to drive their fingernails into their palms and wiggle their toes, just to prevent themselves from fainting dead away at the sheer tedium of it. And as the little ones burgeon and thrive, do you find that their mothers enjoy jests at their expense? I thought not.
The Kipling he references isn't a scientist - it's Rudyard Kipling, who wrote a poem called The Female of the Species. This passage is typical of the article - heavy on style and virtually content-free and full of Hitchens-centric "proof" - "do you find that... mothers enjoy jests at their (children's) expense? I thought not."

He doesn't make an actual case in support of the title of the article. But I'll bet most people haven't read the article, except for the title.

I thought that few people besides me remembered the article at all, it's over four years old. But I was wrong: many of the discussions of the new movie Bridesmaids mention it. And claim that Bridesmaids refutes Christopher Hitchen. For example, CliqueClack:
In January 2007, Christopher Hitchens wrote a controversial article in Vanity Fair entitled, “Why Women Aren’t Funny” and proceeded to peddle various inanities about why he doesn’t find one half of the human species as amusing as the other.


The Philadelphia Inquirer's Carrie Rickey:

Not so very long ago, in 2007 it was, Christopher Hitchens wrote "Why Women Aren't Funny," a sourpuss essay that argued gals lack a funnybone, an assertion almost as preposterous Freud's hypothesis that women suffer from penis envy (which, as everyone knows, is a male malady). And then, last weekend "Bridesmaids" starring Kristen Wiig and Maya Rudolph, made $24 million. Women are officially funny now.


New York Magazine lists a whole bunch more.

Christopher Hitchens is currently very ill from cancer. If he dies soon, it's very likely he will be remembered by most people as "that guy who said women aren't funny."

And frankly, it serves him right.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

May Play of the Month



I had to split this into two parts since it was over the Youtube max of 15 minutes.

This was one of only two plays that actually met the theme of "pilgrims." Oy. That's Claire Warden, Alice Anne English and Bruce Barton performing.

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

how awesome is Roseanne?

I first realized the awesomeness of Roseanne and her show when I caught the episode where Roseanne Conner quits her job:



The asshole supervisor is played to perfection by rightwing asshole politician Fred Thompson - talk about typecasting!

The petty dictatorship of the Thompson character is an exact portrait of so many assholes I have worked under. As my old boyfriend John, who certainly had his share of crap jobs once observed: "the tiniest speck of power corrupts absolutely."

And the toady guy at the beginning of this clip is exactly like a co-worker of mine at my present job.

Then I read Roseanne's autobiography My Life As A Woman and I couldn't stop laughing.

And now, the trifecta of coolness, Roseanne's scathing article in this week's New York Magazine. So many bracing truths in one article!

Item 1:
It didn’t take long for me to get a taste of the staggering sexism and class bigotry that would make the first season of Roseanne god-awful. It was at the premiere party when I learned that my stories and ideas—and the ideas of my sister and my first husband, Bill—had been stolen. The pilot was screened, and I saw the opening credits for the first time, which included this: CREATED BY MATT WILLIAMS. I was devastated and felt so betrayed that I stood up and left the party. Not one person noticed.

I confronted Marcy under the bleachers on the sound stage when we were shooting the next episode. I asked her how I could continue working for a woman who had let a man take credit for my work—who wouldn’t even share credit with me—after talking to me about sisterhood and all that bullshit. She started crying and said, “I guess I’m going to have to tell Brandon [Stoddard, then president of ABC Entertainment] that I can’t deliver this show.” I said, “Cry all you want to, but you figure out a way to put my name on the show I created, or kiss my ass good-bye.”


Item 2:
Eventually she told me that she had been told by one of Matt’s producers—his chief mouthpiece—“not to listen to what Roseanne wants to wear.” This producer was a woman, a type I became acquainted with at the beginning of my stand-up career in Denver. I cared little for them: blondes in high heels who were so anxious to reach the professional level of the men they worshipped, fawned over, served, built up, and flattered that they would stab other women in the back. They are the ultimate weapon used by men against actual feminists who try to work in media, and they are never friends to other women, you can trust me on that.


Item 3:
The “big house” was what I called the writers’ building. I rarely went there, since it was disgusting. Within minutes, one of the writers would crack a stinky-pussy joke that would make me want to murder them. Male writers have zero interest in being nice to women, including their own assistants, few of whom are ever promoted to the rank of "writer," even though they do all the work while the guys sit on their asses taking the credit. Those are the women who deserve the utmost respect.)


Item 4:

But at least everyone began to credit me. I was assumed to be a genius and eccentric instead of a crazy bitch, and for a while it felt pretty nice. I hired comics that I had worked with in clubs, rather than script writers. I promoted several of the female assistants—who had done all the work of assembling the scripts ­anyway—to full writers. (I did that for one or two members of my crew as well.) I gave Joss Whedon and Judd Apatow their first writing jobs, as well as many other untried writers who went on to great success.

Call me immodest—moi?—but I honestly think Roseanne is even more ahead of its time today, when Americans are, to use a technical term from classical economics, screwed. We had our fun; it was a sitcom. But it also wasn’t The Brady Bunch; the kids were wiseasses, and so were the parents. I and the mostly great writers in charge of crafting the show ­every week never forgot that we needed to make people laugh, but the struggle to survive, and to break taboos, was equally important. And that was my goal from the beginning.


Now go read the entire thing, it's free online.

The hostility of men to women who demand artistic control is just as bad today for the most part as when Roseanne was butting heads with entrenched misogyny, twenty-some years ago. And kiss-ass toady yes-women are definitely still with us. They might not all be blondes, and they don't always wear high heels, but there are so many women who will gladly support attacks on women in order to win admission to the boys club - any boys club - even an off-off Broadway theater group or no-budget film studio.

I know some of this type - they work for an independent film director I've clashed with (I blogged about his casting notice appearing on the blog "Nudity Required - No Pay" and he's never gotten over it.) If his work had any artistic merit I could understand why they'd do so much for him for free - but he seems to be dedicated to re-doing every Hollywood sci-fi movie that's ever been made, except with less coherent plots and more naked women.

And incredibly these women actually believe they are feminists - and don't see any conflict when they gladly support an asshole in his lame male-demographic-target endeavors or when he attacks an actual feminist for discussing his douchebaggery.

The best part of Roseanne's story is that while it was a tough struggle, she came out on top. And where are the backstabbers, the faux feminists, the blonde women in heels, today? Wondering why the men they served so faithfully have replaced them with 20-something blondes with belly rings. Who will themselves be traded in 20 years later for 20-something blondes with vajazzling.

But at least, unlike the faux feminists I've dealt with, all the blondes get paid to work for creeps.

I was going to do a play that was in part a parody of the director's work - but I ran out of steam because after a while it seemed like, what was the point? The films already look like parodies to me.

Although I did write a scene that I still kind of like, where a female actor refuses to get naked in order to play an android. So the director has a tantrum and to mollify him, his female flunky suggests that the female actor wear a body stocking to simulate android nudity. When the director reminds the flunky that it's a contractual requirement that all his movies show titties, she suggests that the android have gigantic, gravity-defying breasts that will be added later with CGI. He loves the idea, of course - who doesn't like the idea of gigantic free-floating CGI breasts? I'll have to see if I can recycle that idea in another play.

Monday, May 16, 2011

Rise and Shine



Well instead of throwing out a lot of salty sea-dog lingo, this time Willie is doing a "boatswain's call" - Rise and shine means : A call to turn out of bunks. I guess the "scorching your eyes out" is gruesome poetry meaning the sun is high overhead because it's so late in the day.

Willie likes shouting - especially through bullhorns - there are several of those in the Willie oeuvre - but I guess it can't be helped, he gets so wrought up when liquor is in the vicinity. And he's got a whole barrel.

Saturday, May 14, 2011

going to ARCADIA!



A Broadway promotions company made me a nice offer - they would give visitors to the NYCPlaywrights web site a discount code to see ARCADIA in exchange for posting their offer on the NYCPlaywrights web site. This is great, because discount offers on theatre productions give people an extra incentive to visit the site - but they ALSO gave me vouchers to see ARCADIA for free. I'm taking the top 5 most enthusiastic members of NYCPlaywrights 2.0 - yay!

And as if getting to see a Tom Stoppard play on Broadway for free isn't enough, I am absolutely WILD about the men's costumes - half the play takes place in Regency England. OH YES!

Friday, May 13, 2011

Bad Blogger!

Blogger has been going through some major issues. You can see exactly how bad it's been on this page with a color coded status update - Blogger has been down for most of the past 24 hours. Argh.

They also deleted some posts - which they say they will restore ASAP. Oy!

Thursday, May 12, 2011

Schopenhauer triumphant

Well the latest version of my JULIA & BUDDY with full Schopenhauer action seems to have gone over very well - the general consensus was that this was a step in the right direction.

The best fun was having Schopenhauer rant about Hegel, and a few other philosophers, which he did frequently in his work. Although if he loved a guy, like David Hume, he was happy to praise him too. His lengthy insulting description of Hegel, and his comparison of Hume to two other philosophers are taken directly from one of Schopenhauer's essays:

JULIA

Yes! That is exactly how I feel! I’m so glad you wrote everything down. Otherwise all your wisdom would be lost forever.

SCHOPENHAUER

Not to my contemporaries but to mankind - to future generations - did I commit my work. It takes generations for good work to be recognized.

JULIA

Oh that’s so true! But on the other hand, the work of Hegel -

(Schopenhauer bristles at the mention of Hegel.)

SCHOPENHAUER

Vat? Vat about Hegel?

JULIA

No, you might be upset.

SCHOPENHAUER

You vill tell me!

JULIA

You won’t like it.

(Schopenhauer shakes her.)

SCHOPENHAUER

I must have za truth!

JULIA

Hegel is also important and influential! The Hegelian dialectic was a huge influence on the work of Karl Marx.

(He releases her.)

SCHOPENHAUER

Hegel! That commonplace, inane, loathsome, repulsive and ignorant charlatan, who compiled a system of crazy nonsense that was trumpeted as immortal wisdom!

JULIA

If it makes you feel any better, Marxism is considered dead by many people these days.

SCHOPENHAEUR

Vat of Shleiermacher? Herbart?

JULIA

Oh they’re practically forgotten.

SCHOPENHAUER

Und David Hume?

JULIA

Everybody studies David Hume.

SCHOPENHAUER

At last, sanity! A single page of David Hume has more value than the complete philosophical works of Herbart, Schleiermacher and Hegel! Zer iss some hope yet for humanity.


A few people felt that there was maybe too much Schopenhauer. I sort of went the full Kushner there. But since Kushner is my favorite contemporary playwright it's not such a bad thing.

Speaking of Kushner - I am going to see his The Intelligent Homosexual’s Guide to Capitalism and Socialism with a Key to the Scriptures.

It's gotten mixed reviews. The New Yorker's John Lahr likes it, the Village Voice's Michael Feingold, not so much.

And Michael Musto of the Village Voice says:
At various points in the play, they all sit around a table to chew each other out, while, symbolically enough, never eating. (Except for one character who brings her own trail mix. She's pregnant, so she must be life affirming. The rest are clearly vampires!)

And they do gladly indulge in a lot of screaming, confronting, and overlapping dialogue.

When they suddenly act caring, it doesn't necessarily convince.

Then they scream again. Then Molly Price has a terrific scene as a "self-deliverance" adviser detailing how to properly do oneself in without going to sleep too soon. Then the pace slows.

Did I mention that the house has a hole in the wall, and it keeps growing?

And can I call this a brilliant failure?

Kushner's writing has crackle -- there's a great monologue and some exchanges that catch fire -- and he's brave to make his work a spicy pepper pot of scholarly refs, biblical motifs, and ideological debate.

But while I stopped short at screaming "Kill yourself!" this is a work I admired without really liking.

And the title alone takes three hours and 45 minutes to say!


But hell, it's a brand new Tony Kushner play. I don't think I'm ever going to get to see Angels in America onstage, - the Signature Theatre's production was virtually sold out on opening day. But thanks to the reviews, tickets for Intelligent Homosexual were expensive - but easy to get.


I'm glad to see that Danielle Skraastad is in the show. I've been a fan of hers since I discovered her a couple of years ago in a production of Essential Shakespeare's A Midsummer Night's Dream - I complained that the actors names were left off the show's publicity materials. I had to do some searching on the net to find out anything about the actors - all of whom are not only talented but have some serious stamina to manage to pull off a 5-person Dream.

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Dissenting from Dissent

There's a certain branch of liberalism - many of my friends are members - that has a huge problem with the fact that Osama bin Laden was shot dead while unarmed, especially any celebrations of same. The magazine Dissent has a symposium on the death of bin Laden which illustrates this phenomenon.

The first piece is by Michael Walzer, a co-editor of Dissent and apparently a Great Man of the Humanities (the counterpart of the Great Man of the Arts) who is revered in some circles - a commenter on Facebook took great offense to my criticizing Walzer's piece. But it is a ridiculous piece. It really irks these liberal-guilt types that a bunch of kids came together in a spontaneous celebration of the death of bin Laden. They just can't let it go. It's just so distasteful. Only "quiet relief" is OK in Walzer's opinion.

As if whether a bunch of kids celebrating bin Laden's death has any impact on the War on Terror, or the Police Action against Terror, or whatever it's called. It's so nit-picking and pointless.

But it's this bit at the beginning of Walzer's piece that really irritates me:

It was, as everyone said, a famous (symbolic) victory. What was wrong, then, with the celebrations in front of the White House? There is an old Jewish commentary on the book of Exodus, which says that when Pharaoh’s army drowned in the sea, the angels in heaven began to celebrate, and God rebuked them: how can you rejoice when my creatures are drowning? There must be a secular equivalent to that story. It would say that we should celebrate the ending of wars but not the killing of our enemies. And the war against Islamist terrorism isn’t over.


If Dissent was a magazine aimed at religious Jews and/or Christians I would have let it go. But it claims to be a straight-up leftist publication. Well who outside of a devout Jew/Christian wouldn't laugh out loud at the idea of somebody wishing there was a "secular equivalent" of Jehovah tut-tutting at the angels for celebrating the drowning of Pharoah's army? Is there anything more preposterously hypocritical? Jehovah commits mass-murder throughout the Old Testament, having no qualms about destroying innocent men, women and children for any reason - and sometimes the most absurd reasons. The web site evilbible.com helpfully includes a list of God's Murders for Stupid Reasons including this gem:
From there Elisha went up to Bethel. While he was on his way, some small boys came out of the city and jeered at him. "Go up baldhead," they shouted, "go up baldhead!" The prophet turned and saw them, and he cursed them in the name of the Lord. Then two shebears came out of the woods and tore forty two of the children to pieces. (2 Kings 2:23-24 NAB)

Got that? In the name of the Lord, bears killed 42 children for taunting a bald guy.

And then this evil freak of a deity has the audacity to scold angels for celebrating the slaughter of Pharoah's army.

And Michael Walzer wants a secular version of this.

I've argued with too many people on Facebook about why it was justified to take Bin Laden out immediately without a trial. And how it doesn't make the US a country of murder-loving monsters.

I find the quickest way to find out where they are coming from is to ask them if they would have had any problem with taking Adolph Hitler out in the same way. Because either they think even Hitler should get a trial - which is almost nobody, or they don't think that Bin Laden was as bad as Hitler (in spite having pretty much the same opinion of Jews) - or most often they avoid the question because they don't want to have to admit to either of those. Because it's too much effort to work through the moral issues. They'd rather just think of themselves as Jehovahs who need to scold us lesser beings for stepping outside the bounds of "quiet relief."

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

more quotes from Schopenhauer

  • "Talent hits a target no one else can hit; Genius hits a target no one else can see."

  • "All truth passes through three stages: First, it is ridiculed; Second, it is violently opposed; Third, it is accepted as self-evident."

  • "We forfeit three-fourths of ourselves in order to be like other people."

  • "The person who writes for fools is always sure of a large audience."

  • "Without books the development of civilization would have been impossible. They are the engines of change, windows on the world, "Lighthouses" as the poet said "erected in the sea of time." They are companions, teachers, magicians, bankers of the treasures of the mind, Books are humanity in print."

  • "The assumption that animals are without rights, and the illusion that our treatment of them has no moral significance, is a positively outrageous example of Western crudity and barbarity. Universal compassion in the only guarantee of morality. "

  • "We will gradually become indifferent to what goes on in the minds of other people when we acquire a knowledge of the superficial nature of their thoughts , the narrowness of their views and of the number of their errors. Whoever attaches a lot of value to the opinions of others pays them too much honor."

  • "Religion is the masterpiece of the art of animal training, for it trains people as to how they shall think. "

  • "If children were brought into the world by an act of pure reason alone, would the human race continue to exist? Would not a man rather have so much sympathy with the coming generation as to spare it the burden of existence, or at any rate not take it upon himself to impose that burden upon it in cold blood?"

  • "To be shocked at how deeply rejection hurts is to ignore what acceptance involves. We must never allow our suffering to be compounded by suggestions that there is something odd in suffering so deeply. There would be something amiss if we didn't."

  • "NOT to my contemporaries, not to my compatriots but to mankind I commit my now completed work in the confidence that it will not be without value for them, even if this should be late recognised, as is commonly the lot of what is good. For it cannot have been for the passing generation, engrossed with the delusion of the moment, that my mind, almost against my will, has uninterruptedly stuck to its work through the course of a long life.

  • "The shortness of life, so often lamented, may be the best thing about it."

  • "There is no absurdity so palpable but that it may be firmly planted in the human head if you only begin to inculcate it before the age of five, by constantly repeating it with an air of great solemnity."

  • "How very paltry and limited the normal human intellect is, and how little lucidity there is in the human consciousness, may be judged from the fact that, despite the ephemeral brevity of human life, the uncertainty of our existence and the countless enigmas which press upon us from all sides, everyone does not continually and ceaselessly philosophize, but that only the rarest of exceptions do."

bust of Schopenhauer



This bust of Schopenhauer was sculpted by Elisabet Ney, who was a very interesting person in her own right. German by birth, she and her Scottish physician husband emigrated to Texas. There is an Elisabet Ney Elementary School in Lake Jackson, Texas named after her.

According to Wiki:
After the elderly Schopenhauer sat for a sculpture portrait by Elisabet Ney, he told Richard Wagner's friend Malwida von Meysenbug, "I have not yet spoken my last word about women. I believe that if a woman succeeds in withdrawing from the mass, or rather raising herself above the mass, she grows ceaselessly and more than a man."[35]


Ney was waaaay ahead of her time:
She refused to use her husband's name, often denied she was even married, and once remarked:[1][2][15]

"Women are fools to be bothered with housework. Look at me: I sleep in a hammock which requires no making up. I break an egg and sip it raw. I make lemonade in a glass, and then rinse it, and my housework is done for the day."

She wore pants and rode her horses astride as men did. Ney liked to fashion her own clothes, which, in addition to the slacks, included boots and a black artist frock coat.[4]

awesome Schopenhauer resources

I'm rewriting JULIA & BUDDY's last 30 pages again in advance of another reading this Wednesday, and decided that rather than reduce Schopenhauer, I need to have the man himself show up in Julia's fever dream.

I haven't done any research on this, but I believe that once this is produced it will be the first appearance of Schopenhauer in any theatrical production, certainly on the NY stage.

Schopenhauer has an opinion on theatre, as on almost everything else. From his The Art of Controversy (aka "The Art of Being Right"):
A drama or a novel may often attract us by its interest, and yet be so utterly deficient in any kind of beauty that we are afterwards ashamed of having wasted our time on it. This applies to many a drama which gives no true picture of the real life of man; which contains characters very superficially drawn, or so distorted as to be actual monstrosities, such as are not to be found in nature; but the course of events and the play of the action are so intricate, and we feel so much for the hero in the situation in which he is placed, that we are not content until we see the knot untangled and the hero rescued. The action is so cleverly governed and guided in its course that we remain in a state of constant curiosity as to what is going to happen, and we are utterly unable to form a guess; so that between eagerness and surprise our interest is kept active; and as we are pleasantly entertained, we do not notice the lapse of time. Most of Kotzebue’s plays are of this character. For the mob this is the right thing: it looks for amusement, something to pass the time, not for intellectual perception. Beauty is an affair of such perception; hence sensibility to beauty varies as much as the intellectual faculties themselves. For the inner truth of a representation, and its correspondence with the real nature of humanity, the mob has no sense at all. What is flat and superficial it can grasp, but the depths of human nature are opened to it in vain.

It is also to be observed that dramatic representations which depend for their value on their interest lose by repetition, because they are no longer able to arouse curiosity as to their course, since it is already known. To see them often, makes them stale and tedious. On the other hand, works of which the value lies in their beauty gain by repetition, as they are then more and more understood.


You can hear the entire book online at Librivox - awesome!

Also available - A few parables by Arthur Schopenhauer.

The reader, Andrew MacBeth, pronounces the name "SHOP-en-how-er" rather than SHOW-pen-how-er."

Three of the parables:
Two Chinamen traveling in Europe went to the theatre for the first time. One of them did nothing but study the machinery, and he succeeded in finding out how it was worked. The other tried to get at the meaning of the piece in spite of his ignorance of the language. Here you have the Astronomer and the Philosopher.


Once, as I was botanizing under an oak, I found amongst a number of other plants of similar height one that was dark in color, with tightly closed leaves and a stalk that was very straight and stiff. When I touched it, it said to me in firm tones: "Let me alone; I am not for your collection, like these plants to which Nature has given only a single year of life. I am a little oak."

So it is with a man whose influence is to last for hundreds of years. As a child, as a youth, often even as a full-grown man, nay, his whole life long, he goes about among his fellows, looking like them and seemingly as unimportant. But let him alone; he will not die. Time will come and bring those who know how to value him.


A number of porcupines huddled together for warmth on a cold day in winter; but, as they began to prick one another with their quills, they were obliged to disperse. However the cold drove them together again, when just the same thing happened. At last, after many turns of huddling and dispersing, they discovered that they would be best off by remaining at a little distance from one another. In the same way the need of society drives the human porcupines together, only to be mutually repelled by the many prickly and disagreeable qualities of their nature. The moderate distance which they at last discover to be the only tolerable condition of intercourse, is the code of politeness and fine manners; and those who transgress it are roughly told--in the English phrase--_to keep their distance_. By this arrangement the mutual need of warmth is only very moderately satisfied; but then people do not get pricked. A man who has some heat in himself prefers to remain outside, where he will neither prick other people nor get pricked himself.


It should be noted that Schopenhauer never lived with anybody throughout his entire adult life except for a series of poodles he named Atma - World Soul.

Also available - aphorisms:

How difficult it is to learn to understand oneself, and clearly to recognise what it is that one wants before anything else; what it is, therefore, that is most immediately necessary to our happiness; then what comes next; and what takes the third and the fourth place, and so on.

Yet, without this knowledge, our life is planless, like a captain without a compass.


If we were not all of us exaggeratedly interested in ourselves, life would be so uninteresting that no one could endure it.


A man is wise only on condition of living in a world full of fools.

Monday, May 09, 2011

1. Bush 2. Bush 3. Financial Sector

Paul Krugman has a perfect column up today on the idiocracy who are trying to blame the current sorry financial state of the US and the world on average people. Which of course is pretty much what the elites will always do.

Krugman sums it up perfectly - and I've made a handy chart of his main points:

What is the cause of our current financial situation?


Done and done. Why is it that the big-mouth sabre-rattlers like Bush & Greenspan are total incompetents, while the quieter guys like Obama and Krugman are right - and get things done?

It really does seem, much of the time, like we live in an Idiocracy.

If you haven't seen that movie, go, see it. Now.

Sunday, May 08, 2011

Swinging Willie



A rare sighting of Willie on the job. Although there is a serious workplace safety issue on the bark Wanderer - it appears that Willie is forced to do repairs on the ship while hanging by nothing more than his toes. The least the captain can do is give him a drink.

Tom Sawyer's traverse is defined in the Naval ceremonies, customs, and traditions:
An old term that meant the course and movements of a "soldiering" (no reflection on the Army) sailor to kill time, such as frequent trips to and long stays at the scuttle butt and in the head, part of the art of work dodging. An American variant of the British phrase "Tom Cox's Traverse," meaning "up one hatch and down another."

Saturday, May 07, 2011

The Bechdel test



The best illustration of the Bechdel test since the original.

The Bechdel test was invented in 1985. Almost 30 years on and the movie industry is still completely dominated by stories about men.

I finally tracked down this woman's name - Anita Sarkeesian - she has an entire Youtube channel Feminist Frequency. She is just awesome. She had a piece that gave a shout-out to Katha Pollitt's immortal NYTimes essay The Smurfette Principle, so I posted that on Facebook, making sure to share it directly with my FB friend Katha Pollitt.

Although I don't like the harshing Pollitt does on The Little Mermaid in the original Smurfette essay. I don't think she gives it enough feminist cred. It was the first animated female lead I ever saw - especially in a Disney movie - lusting after a guy. And he was pretty hot too.

Thursday, May 05, 2011

It's my old pal Bill!

My pro-mosque candlelight vigil pal Bill Steyert got a shout out in today's NYTimes. Back when I met him on September 10, 2010 he was flying a "Veterans for Peace" flag. Apparently he's also a grandfather for peace. Like I said in my September video - he's kind of a pro at demonstrations. I mispronounced his name in the video. I also said the press loves Bill - so I'm not a bit surprised to find him being quoted in the NYTimes.

If you have poor reading comprehension, you should not be a playwright

I posted a call for scripts on the NYCPlaywrights web site for the May "Play of the Month". The theme was "pilgrims" but I knew I might need to provide a definition so I did - I said:

"What are pilgrims? In addition to the ones who celebrated the first Thanksgiving in what would later be the USA?

Consider this excerpt from the Wikipedia article on pilgrims:
Modern era

Many religions still espouse pilgrimage as a spiritual activity. The great Islamic pilgrimage to Mecca (now in Saudi Arabia), is obligatory for every able Muslim. Other Islamic devotional pilgrimages, particularly to the tombs of Shia Imams or Sufi saints, are also popular across the Islamic world.

A modern phenomenon is the cultural pilgrimage, which while also about personal journey, involves a secular response. Destinations for such pilgrims can include historic sites of national or cultural importance, and can be defined as places "of cultural significance: an artist's home, the location of a pivotal event or an iconic destination."

An example might be a baseball fan visiting Cooperstown, New York. Destinations for cultural pilgrims include examples such as Auschwitz concentration camp, Gettysburg Battlefield, the Ernest Hemingway House or even Disneyland.

Cultural pilgrims may also travel on religious pilgrimage routes, such as the Way of St. James, with the perspective of making it a historic or architectural tour rather than a religious experience.

Secular pilgrims also exist under communist regimes. These devotional but strictly secular pilgrims visited locations such as the Mausoleum of Lenin or Mausoleum of Mao Zedong, or the Birthplace of Karl Marx. Such visits were sometimes state-sponsored.]


OK, so maybe "pilgrim" is fairly obscure but I did provide a definition which I think is clear - a pilgrimage has something to do with travel. So I received 11 submissions. Of those, exactly ONE play involved travel of any kind - I mean I would have accepted some kind of metaphorical travel. No such luck. Here's what I got:

Play 1: a couple sitting on a park bench reminiscing over a date they went on many years ago.

Play 2: Tallulah Bankhead and her boyfriend making potato pancakes together.

Play 3: a woman protesting a puppy mill talks to a puppy.

And on and on. What is WRONG with these people???

Although something good came out of it - I posted this account on my Facebook page and Merrill Markoe weighed in: "Does this help make it better at all? Tallulah Bankhead had to travel back from the dead."

Which is a genius idea. Tallulah Bankhead returning from the dead on a pilgrimage to make potato pancakes. That's why Merrill Markoe makes the big bucks in the entertainment biz.