Tuesday, July 31, 2012

UFO, part two: My Fair Lady, the worst good musical ever

So we were there, in Logan, at the Utah Festival Opera, a beautiful theater watching first-rate productions of Kiss Me Kate, and My Fair Lady.  And so, now, I want to make this case: My Fair Lady is the worst good musical ever.  I think seeing a terrific production of it--which UFO gave us--makes the flaws of the material all the clearer. 

Look, there have been lots of horrible musicals in history.  I've heard stories about the musical based on Stephen King's Carrie that would curl your back teeth. Most awful musicals, in fact, aren't produced.  I saw one at BYU a few years ago, a musical based on Casey at the Bat that was lively and energetic and fun and completely terrible.  My Fair Lady came out the year I was born, and ran past my sixth birthday.  It was a huge, huge, massive popular hit.  It's the definition of a great musical.

I also think it's rotten to the core, that the book is an obscene profanation of a great artist's work, that it only has one good song, that it took everything that was unique and smart and subversive in its source material and turned it into the most insipid of romantic comedies. 

George Bernard Shaw wrote Pygmalion in 1912.  We all know the story: Henry Higgins, a linguist, vows to teach the flower girl, Eliza Doolittle how to speak properly, promising that she can pass for a duchess under his direction.  Higgins is a bully and a misogynist--worse than that, he's a rotten linguist.  Linguistics is about the study of language; a good linguist loves language, loves the differences between dialects, loves pidgins and coinages and slang. Higgins is the worst kind of class snob--someone who thinks lower-class dialects are just wrong.  He's not actually a linguist at all--he's an phonetician, an elocutionist, someone who wants to teach people who talk 'wrong' how to talk 'right.'  Instead of recognizing that everyone is multi-lingual, that everyone tailors speech to various social circumstances, Higgins tells Eliza that she's wrong, and that he'll make her 'right.'  And uses various approaches, including Pavlovian conditioning, to improve her.

It's a smart, sophisticated critique of class and the link between social class and language.  Best of all, Shaw intentionally structures the play like a romantic comedy, to strengthen his critique of how language constructs class and gender.  Eliza is a child of poverty, a slum girl.  She clings to some kind of pride, some sense of self: "I'm a good girl, I am," she says repeatedly.  A statement of personal integrity, given how many girls from her culture ended up, in 1912, in prostitution.  Henry turns her into a lady; language becomes, for her, the path to upward mobility.  And also limits her options.  An upper-class woman, in Shaw's society, can really only marry.  That's about the only career option open to her.  As Nora learns in A Doll House--a play Shaw loved and admired--women are in essence forced by their culture to trade sexual favors--marriage--for economic security.  Eliza, who managed to cling to her own sense of self-definition as a 'good girl,' has become a duchess, whose only career choice is prostitution.  And so she does marry, marries Freddy, a sweet, somewhat empty-headed young upper-class gentleman who she is rather fond of, but never in love with, knowing that marriage can only diminish her, but seeing it as the best of her poor options. 

The musical is by Alan Jay Lerner and Frederick Loewe.  And here's my problem with it--it turns Pygmalion into what Shaw never meant it to be, a romantic comedy, in which Eliza falls in love with and marries Henry.  Shaw structured the play as a romantic comedy on purpose, to critique the form, to attack gender stereotypes, as a platform for his assault on everything romantic comedy stood for.  And Eliza married Freddy, and it's not a happy ending.  It's bittersweet, emphasis on bitter--it's Eliza surrendering her independence, giving up on her own best self and her own best ambitions.  It's a tragic ending.  An Eliza 'in love with' Henry, is an Eliza succumbing to Stockholm Syndrome.  All that nuance, all that social commentary, disappear in the musical, are turned into cute songs and neat comic bits.  It takes an anti-romance and turns its heart to romance.  It mutes Eliza, it infantilizes her, it shuts her the hell up, by giving her pretty songs to sing.  It's cute and fun and clever, instead of disturbing and transgressive and bold.  It dances a lively waltz on Shaw's grave, with nimble choreography and lovely costumes. 

Precisely because the UFO production was so good, it depressed me more than ever.  And my back was killing me.  I couldn't sit there and watch cute Eliza marry adorably rude Henry, a Henry that hides his basic decency with bluster, which she sees right through.  Blarg.  I left at the interval. 

Monday, July 30, 2012

Utah Festival Opera part one: Kiss Me Kate

This weekend, my wife and I went up to Logan to the Utah Festival Opera.  Michael Ballam runs the UFO, and he's an old friend of our family, and was kind enough to arrange seats for us.  They lovingly restored a beautiful old theater, and every summer they perform a selection of operas and musicals.  I would have loved to have seen their Tosca or Faust, but couldn't make the schedule work--instead, we saw Kiss Me Kate and My Fair Lady.  Both starred Michael's daughter Vanessa, who we also know, and who is terrific, a wonderfully charismatic and engaging actress.  I plan to review My Fair Lady tomorrow. 

Kiss Me Kate is one of my wife's favorite shows.  She knows the movie well--watched it all the time with her mom and sisters growing up.  I've seen it once before, but don't know it well at all.  It's a lot of fun.  The premise: a struggling theatre company is doing a musical version of The Taming of the Shrew, produced and directed by Fred Graham, who will also play Petruchio.  His ex-wife, Lili Vanessi is cast as Katherine--we know from the outset they're going to end up together.  I mean, it's a musical.  Also in the cast, Lois Lane/Bianca, and her boyfriend Bill/Lucentio. I don't have my program with me, can't give you their names, but I thought they were all great.

Okay, like I said, I don't know this musical well, but it's Cole Porter, and I love Cole Porter.  So clever, so wickedly subversive.  Couple of points: my wife and I are old enough to have a son who turns thirty this year.  We were also about the youngest people in the theater, by twenty years.  Second point: There was a repeated joke in the production regarding the word 'bastard.'  Someone would start to say it-- 'bast . . ' -- and a sound effect--a horn, a buzzer-- would interrupt the second half of the word. I don't know if this is written in the script, or a directing choice for this production.

In the world of Critical Theory, one important tenet is the decentered author.  Texts are not produced by an 'author,' but by impersonal forces within a culture.  This is, of course, silly.  Most High Theory is amazingly silly.  (I'm not a scholar anymore, I'm retired, I can say that).  Basically, it's just a preposterously hyperbolic way of saying 'writers are influenced by the culture they came from.'  But Kiss Me Kate in Logan could serve as exhibit A for anyone arguing for Barthes and the absent author.  For Theory. 

Because Kiss Me Kate--the show, the script, the text, not necessarily the production in Logan, which was exceptionally well done--is sexist in a way that I found quite amazing.  It's not just that The Taming of the Shrew is about physically 'taming' a tough and independent young woman, and that Kiss Me Kate is about The Taming of the Shrew.  It's not just the sight gag built on the idea that Lili/Kate has been spanked on stage hard enough that she can't sit down without a pillow--which Fred pulls out before she can sit on it, leading to the 'excruciating butt pain' bit--quite the rib-tickler, that one.  You could (barely) make the case that she hits him as often as he hits her.  But she's infantilized in every scene.  Lili's a proven actress, a professional, an intelligent and charming woman who, we're told, mixes easily in Washington D.C. society.  But Fred has no difficulty convincing her Senator beau that when she says "I'm being held captive against my will," she's just overreacting, you know, the way dumb broads tend to do. 

So who 'wrote' this text?  Cole Porter?  Or the gender expectations of the late 1940's?  (It opened in 1948, which makes sense--five years earlier, and I rather think Rosie the Riveter and  her sisters wouldn't have sat still for it.) 

But what I found truly, truly astounding, are how wicked, how naughty it is.

Remember, this is a production in which they wouldn't say 'bastard.'  Too offensive, that word.  And I think it's quite possible that some members of that audience, in Logan, probably would have found 'bastard' troubling.  But. . . take this song: "Too darn hot."  Okay, it starts off the second act, it's sung by one minor character, joined by the chorus. Point of the song: it's very hot outside.  Too hot, in fact, to have sex.  Sings the character: "I'd like to sup with my baby tonight, and play the pup with my baby tonight" but it's too hot.  "I'd like to stop for my baby tonight, and blow my top with my baby tonight, but I'd be a flop with my baby tonight" because of the excessive amount of heat.  Over and over again, that sentiment is expressed: the character would love to indulge in wildly tantric, Kama sutric, acrobatic sexual relations, but, alas, for the temperature. Don't take my word for it. See for yourself.

That's one of the things Cole Porter does. He writes songs that establish a premise, which he then repeats over and over, our pleasure deriving from the cleverness of his lyrics.  So the song "Always True to you in my fashion", sung by Lois/Bianca.  The entire song involves her saying that she'd like to stay faithful to her boyfriend, but there are a number of categories of men she'd like to have sex with first, in part because of the presents they give her.  I'm not kidding.  That's the entire song.  And don't get me started on "Brush Up Your Shakespeare"; a series of double-entendres on every Shakespeare title that can be made to sound dirty.

Was I offended by any of this?  Not remotely.  Of course not. I loved it.  I enjoy salacious wit, I love double-entendres, I love subversive jokes and naughty humor.  I especially love it all when it's performed with the kind of energetic gusto the Logan company brought to bear.  I love Cole Porter's music, all those delicious half-steps.  I think "So in Love" is one of the great love songs.   

I just think it's kind of weird.  All that Victorian old maid reticence over 'bastard,' followed by wink wink nod nod jab to the ribs sexual humor. All that brutal swaggering sexism, followed by Bianca's frank sexual liberation--at least, she's as liberated as any 'ho.  I found the entire experience very strange.  I laughed a lot, too, and then went home and listened to a lot of Cole Porter, and enjoyed his open sophistication very much.  How sexist is the show; how seriously should we take it; how much does Porter undercut it, how much did this production deconstruct it? A lot, some, some, and I'm not sure.  And then the next day we went back and saw a show twenty times worse.

Sunday, July 29, 2012

On Chick-Fil-A

I intend to join the boycott of Chick-Fil-A, because of the recent comments by Dan Cathy, the company's CEO, opposing gay marriage.  I will never eat Chick-Fil-A.

This won't be hard for me.  I haven't ever eaten Chick-Fil-A up to now, not ever.  I don't even know what they serve.  I gather it's some kind of chicken sandwich.  If I was going out to lunch with friends, and asked where they wanted to go, and they said "I feel like Chick-Fil-A!" I would be at a complete loss.  I don't even know where any local Chick-Fil-A restaurants are located.  I could ask Siri, I suppose, if I had a Smartphone, except I don't, I just have my old dumb phone.  My friends would have to ask Siri on their Smartphones.

I sort of want to try Chick-Fil-A, and I want their sandwiches to be awesome. I really like chicken sandwiches, and I would love it if they made the best ones anywhere.  I want them to be the Five Guys of chicken sandwiches.  Then my boycott would mean something, would require that I actually give up something important to me.  As it is now, my boycott doesn't mean a thing.  It's pretty stupid, really.  I am giving up something I've never even tried, and that I wouldn't know where to go for if I wanted some. 

Yay for me.  

So, ironically, deciding to boycott Chick-Fil-A makes me want to eat their product, something I have never had any interest in up to now. 

I do know that there is a Chick-Fil-A somewhere in Provo, because they have a billboard ad on I-15.  I've seen it driving down from Salt Lake.  It has a cow, and she's written "eat mor chikin" on the billboard.  I think the humor for the ad is supposed to come from two incongruities--one, that a cow, in a nasty display of intra-species competitiveness, urges us to eat chicken sandwiches instead of hamburgers, and second, that the cow spells poorly.  But considering that it's a cow, I think she's doing really well.  I'm impressed with a cow with sufficient self-awareness and instinct for self-preservation to know that people eat hamburgers, that hamburgers are made from ground-up cows, that they could eat chicken instead, that doing so would be good for cows, (or cowz, yo) and that it's possible to convey that thought in written form, in English.  Plus, how did she manage to write?  Cows have hooves, not fingers; how did she manipulate a paint brush.  I think it's weird that Chick-Fil-A would build an ad campaign around how badly those dumb cows spell, when what's really remarkable is a cow that can spell at all. 

The whole thing makes me think that it's not the cow that's dumb, but Dan Cathy, CEO of the company.  I have no idea if he can spell.  His official statement opposing gay marriage was very well spelled.  It just seems to me idiotic.  First of all, I'm suspicious of anyone who talks about 'biblical marriage,' what with the widows being forced to marry their brothers-in-law and the rape victims having to marry their rapists and all.  I'll grant you that Mr. Cathy probably didn't mean by 'biblical marriage' the requirement that prospective sons-in-law deliver large numbers of Philistine foreskins to their girlfriends' Dads to prove their bona fides.  I think he understands 'biblical marriage' to mean a guy marrying a woman and then never cheating on her.  I'm actually in favor of that too.  I just don't see how it has anything to do with my gay friends who have also gotten married and who also don't intend to cheat. 

No, I think Dan Cathy is an idiot for this reason; he runs a company that sells chicken sandwiches. What does talking publically about gay marriage have to do with selling chicken sandwiches?  Why give people a reason to not buy your sandwiches?  What about gay people who like chicken sandwiches? 

I'm also doubt these kinds of boycotts do much good, or that they make a difference.  The only reason to do it is to feel better about yourself.  When the Supreme Court decides the issue, they won't even take Chick-Fil-A into account.  It will have no part in their deliberations.  In fact, I can imagine Justice Kennedy or Justice Roberts eating Chick-Fil-A while they work on their decision.  That's a pretty funny thought, actually.

Right now, Chick-Fil-A has come to mean 'against gay marriage.'  That makes me not to want to eat their food.  And so I never will again.  Not that I ever have. 

Friday, July 27, 2012


My folks are in town, and the three of us went out to lunch yesterday.  Conversation turned to politics, as it often does, and my Dad and I got into it a bit.  All very friendly, of course, we get along fine.  But we do disagree on politics. One of the things I got from my Dad is a life-long habit of reading a daily newspaper, staying informed.  Another is an occasional tendency to write letters to the editor.  Plus, he's Norwegian; I inherited that too. Which means, we're both a bit stubborn.  A much nicer word than the one my wife uses for it: pigheaded.  So there we were, in a Wendy's, arguing politics, and we discovered we had one issue about which we agreed.  We both think Congress is hopeless.

The 112th Congress may well be the worst Congress in American history.  It's certainly the worst in recent history.  Some of the pre-Civil War Congresses were pretty uniquely terrible, what with the arguing about slavery and beating each other half to death with canes and all.  But they had an excuse--they represented regions of the country that hated each other.  One region thought it was immoral to enslave human beings; another region thought it was just swell. You can see how they all got a mite testy.

But the 112th Congress is terrible without much cause for it.  The country is both prosperous and militarily unchallenged.  Disagreements on policy shouldn't be anywhere near as divisive as in previous eras.  But boy, are they. 

Some facts: the 112th Congress has passed fewer laws than any since the Second World War.  The 80th Congress?  The Congress Harry Truman called the "Do-Nothing Congress?" A Congress so terrible that Truman won re-election by campaigning against it?  They passed 908 laws.  The 112th has passed. . . 112.  That's right, the 112th Congress has passed 112 bills so far--there are still a few months left, so they have time to get it up to, say, 120. 

The 112th Congress is also widely loathed. Their approval rating is at 9%.  That's lower than the IRS, lower than the airline industry, lower than the banks that caused the financial crisis, lower than Nixon during Watergate, lower than Paris Hilton.  That's right--more people admire Paris Hilton than admire the 112th Congress. 

They haven't passed a budget in three years.  They fought like Ali-Frazier over something as completely routine as raising the debt ceiling.  They have never passed an appropriations bill on time. They couldn't agree, last week, on a motion to correct a spelling error in a bill.  

The Founders created a government of checks and balances.  They wanted it to be difficult to pass legislation, they wanted the House and Senate to have to agree (to have to compromise), they wanted the President to have veto power, but for Congress to have the ability to over-ride a veto.  But I'm sorry; there's no way they envisioned this. 

Congress is broken. 

So Ezra Klein was going through all this the other night (guesting for Rachel Maddow), and he talked to Thomas Mann and Norman Ornstein, fellows from the Brookings Institute, and they have a new book out on this Congress.  And they say the problem is political extremism.  The Republican Party has gone crazy, essentially, the Tea Party has driven the national discourse so far to the right that compromise has become anathema.  And I agree, in part, with that argument.  I mean, when Mitch McConnell (Senate minority leader) says his goal is to make Barack Obama a one-term President, and when he then uses the filibuster more than ever before in history, it's not hard to assign blame. The debt ceiling debacle was clearly Tea Party-driven.  John Boehner clearly lost control of his caucus, and their refusal to compromise drove the whole debate. 

But I'm a liberal.  So's Ezra Klein.  He's my kind of liberal, very policy driven, very focused on research and results, but we're on the same side.  The Brookings Institute is a liberal think-tank. 

And yet and yet.  What's driving this debate is a sense that 'business as usual', that the governing consensus that has mostly driven policy since WWII, that the world of compromise and finely tuned legislative solutions to problems has failed.  That our debt isn't 'a concern,' but freaking terrifying.  And thus the Tea Party: valuing ideological purity, valuing principle over compromise.  It's actually a problem for Mitt Romney too--he's not really trusted by the hard-core Right, and so he has to lock in to policy positions that can't really be what he actually believes. 

The financial crisis was not just fiscally destabilizing, but it was demoralizing, it left us all shaken and afraid.  If President Obama had proposed a stimulus that had worked, I think Congress might have come around.  But the stimulus he proposed was much too small, and it's hard to argue that it was actually needed. 

The 112th Congress reflects a deeply divided, economically troubled, terrified America.  They can't function, because nobody can agree on what function they should serve.  We're not unified as a nation--perhaps we shouldn't be.  But the level of vitriol right now, floating around the internet, is impressive. 

We could, say, change the rules of the Senate.  Make it harder to filibuster, for example, make it harder for the minority to stop bills from coming to a vote.  But they could function under the current rules, if they really wanted to.  

We need to get over it. We need to talk policy, share ideas, find places to compromise, not accuse political opponents of treason.  But it's not going to happen quickly.  We need a couple of elections first.  And it would help if the winners of those elections weren't crazy.  On either side. 

Thursday, July 26, 2012

Actors' courage

I am in awe of my sister-in-law.  She's a wonderful person, kind and thoughtful and we love her dearly.  Her kids are all performers--they all had leads in various high school shows, and her family has been very involved in their local community theatre.  My brother has build sets for that theatre for years, and has gradually become more and more involved, to the point where he runs the organization now, and has acted in a few of their shows.  And my sister-in-law finally decided to audition for a show too--their upcoming production of the Sound of Music. It opens this next week.  And she got cast, as did he.  He's playing Max.  She's playing the Mother Abbess.  Which means she gets to sing "Climb Every Mountain."  This song, in other words.  One of the most memorable songs in the history of American musical theatre.

It will be the first time in her life she sings a solo in public.

I talked to my brother today.  He says she's doing great with it. Great part for her, and he says everyone's rooting for her, and she's a little nervous, but she's excited too.

Here's my prediction:

She won't sleep the night before the show opens.  She won't be able to think about anything else all day.  She'll be terrified and excited in equal measure, all day.  She'll arrive at the theater early, get into costume and makeup, and she'll be her usual affable self to the other cast members, but they'll remember her as preoccupied.  She'll sit off-stage, awaiting her entrance, and her knees will feel weak.  You always feel it in the knees. And she'll go over her lines over and over again, and especially the lyrics to That Song.  And then she'll hear her cue and just for a moment, for an indescribably brief moment, she'll freeze, she'll nearly panic, she'll doubt herself, she'll wonder if she can do it.  And then her legs will move, almost unbidden, and she'll step out on stage, into the light, and she'll find it momentarily disorienting, the light, and behind it, the sounds, the presence of all those people.  The audience.  Friends and neighbors no more, just a thing, a single frightening creature, this monstrous audience-beast.  And then she'll hear her cue, and she'll say her first line, just as she's rehearsed it.  And she'll forget, for just a second, the audience-beast, and she'll connect with her fellow actors, the Maria, the other nuns.  And then the music will begin, her cue to start singing.  And she'll begin.

And she'll rock the house.

We use violent imagery in the theatre.  "We slayed 'em," we say.  "We killed out there."  Because what we killed, what we had to kill, is the audience-beast, creature of our own imaginings, that amorphous animal that threatens to consume us.

Unless we tame it.

By doing what we do.

1972, I was on my way home from school, when a cute girl I had a crush on stopped me on my way to the parking lot and said, "hey, auditions are tonight.  Why don't you come with me?"  And I followed her into the theater, and auditioned for Bloomington High School South's production of Barefoot in the Park, by Neil Simon.  And I was called back for the character role of Victor Velasco, and I went to that callback with two thoughts in my mind. I was more frightened than I'd ever been before, of anything, ever.  Also, more than anything, I wanted that part.  Two months later, I stood backstage, and just before my first entrance, turned to the actor playing the telephone repairman, and said to him, "I quit." He literally shoved me onto the stage.  And I said my first line.  And the audience-beast . . . laughed. 

And I thought: Oh, man. Wow.  I could get used to this.

I love actors.  I love their courage, their tenacity in clinging to a profession that will never love them as much as they love it.  I love, above all, the magic that takes place when they step out on-stage, stark bare-naked except for a costume.  And transform.  Even in bad plays, even in awful nights where the playwright was an idiot and the director's an idiot, and the show sucks and everyone knows it, even then (and it doesn't happen often), maybe even especially then, the courage of actors is inspirational.  They dare. And when the show's good?  It's the Mona Lisa and the Sistine Chapel and Bjorling singing 'Nessun dorma" and Hendrix doing "Bold as Love" all rolled into one.  Nothing, nothing, is better, than actors moving us, changing us, with their talent, their hard work, their sheer audacity.  It's the greatest art form God ever created--its existence stands as witness that He loves His children. And that we are brothers and sisters together. 

And next week, my sister-in-law will join that unbroken line of heroes and heroines that stretches from Thespis through Roscius through Burbage through Duse through Olivier through Dame Maggie, to us, here, today. 

We love you, Dawn. Break a leg. 

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Downton Abbey

Yeah, it's a soap. I get that it's a soap.  It even used amnesia (amnesia!) as a plot point.  I've heard all the criticism.  It's conservative in its politics--seems to think the class system was fine, and that Lords and Ladies were just swell.  It's conventional in its morality; the one gay character is also the most loathsome.  Plus, it's a soap.  I don't care.  I'm going to sound like the gushingest fan-boy on the planet here, and I don't care--I flat love Downtown Abbey

My wife and I watched Season One, and were totally hooked, and then put Season Two at the top of our Netflix queue, where it stayed not budging for six months.  Finally, Netflix informed us that Season Two disc one was on its way--that's the one that got lost in the mail, first time ever.  It got funny, after awhile--we had many friends who offered to lend us their copies, but it got to the point where we were just stubborn about it.  We were going to watch it, by crikey, and via a Netflix DVD, and that was all there was to it!  Then Season Two finally showed up, and was as good as promised.

So, in case you've been lost in the Australian outback the last two years, here's Downton Abbey: it's a British TV series that reads like a Waugh novel, but is in fact a new creation.  Julian Fellowes is the talented fellowe who wrote every episode, created the more or less twenty main characters, living in a British country estate in the first decades of the twentieth century.  Downton Abbey is home to Robert Crawley, Earl of Grantham, his American wife, Cora, and their three daughters, Mary, Edith and Sybil.  The show follows their loves and losses, but spends as much or more time with their servants, especially Carson, the butler, Mrs. Hughes, the housekeeper, two footman, Thomas and William, and various maids, particularly Miss O'Brien, Lady Crawley's personal maid, and Anna, who serves the daughters, most especially Mary.  And Anna is in love with Bates, Lord Grantham's crippled and honorable valet.

A lot of the plot involves the tangled love story between Mary, an independent, beautiful, bored and not entirely nice young woman, and Matthew Crawley, Lord Grantham's heir, a thoroughly nice young barrister who thinks the Downton lifestyle is rather absurd.  Which it is.

And that's one of the reasons we love the show.  It shows a lifestyle that is absurd, with its regimented routines of dressing, dinners, hunts and balls, with wealthy and bored aristocrats desperately holding on to their rapidly vanishing culture.  But they're also good folks.  Lord Grantham, for all his failings, is a basically kind-hearted and decent man, genuinely trying to do his best for his people, while Carson, the butler, is the most benevolent of downstairs dictators.  That's a lot of the fun of the show; the rich and multi-layered characters.  Thomas the footman is a rotter, to be sure, but also has moments of generosity, and the fact that he's gay adds, to my mind, poignancy to his nastiness.  Miss O'Brien, his accomplice, is a nasty old gossip, but also a woman who nearly kills herself caring for Cora when she becomes ill.  Mary and Edith are generally at each other's throats, but come together to prevent Sybil--generous, idealistic, hopelessly naive--from destroying her life.  We care a lot about Mary's love for Matthew, but we care a whole lot more for Anna and Mr. Bates.  (Joanne Froggatt is tremendous as Anna--plays her as an intelligent, independent, deeply compassionate young woman--I want Anna's life to be good far more than anyone in the Crawley family.)

Plus, it's got Maggie Smith.  And I take it as given that any movie or show with Maggie Smith in it has a leg up on any one without her.  She's wonderful in this, plays the Dowager Countess--Lord Grantham's mother.  Her role is essentially to comment waspishly on the goings-on around her, which means she gets all the good lines, each of which she delivers with the snap and wit of a great comedienne. 

And here's what's interesting.  Maggie Smith's character is the ultimate conservative--she wants to preserve as much as possible of the privileged life she's always known, and she's not about to give quarter.  Her bete noire is Mrs. Crawley, Matthew Crawley's mother, a fascinating character in her own right.  Mrs. Crawley is a nurse, and a smart and effective one.  She wants to be useful--she thinks the Downton Abbey lifestyle is ridiculous, and during the war (WWI, on-going during most of the second season), she succeeds in turning the home into a convalescent center for wounded officers.  She's a proto-feminist, a champion for women's rights and a trained, seasoned professional. She's also a busy-body and a scold, and we don't like her.  She and Maggie Smith's character are at loggerheads throughout, and frankly, my wife and I are entirely on Maggie's side.  

And that's been some of the criticism I've read about the show.  Mrs. Crawley is a feminist heroine, and the Countess, an anachronism--the show urges us to root for the wrong side. 

But I think good drama should transcend what strike me as petty political considerations.  I'm on the side of well-written, interesting characters, characters who change and grow--or don't, and pay the price.  I love the fact that we can find Mrs. Crawley admirable, but also annoying.  I love the fact that we can be amused by the Dowager Countess, like her energy and wit, but also recognize--as she does, grudgingly--that she's fast becoming a relic. 

I love politics, and I'm a liberal and a committed feminist.  Good drama's more important to me than that.  And that's why I love Downton Abbey

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Some uncomfortable facts about Pioneers

It's July 24, time to honor our Pioneer heritage, and the extraordinary men and women who looked at an arid desert where the largest water supply was a huge salt lake, and said "yep, looks good to me." What made Salt Lake Valley attractive was precisely the fact that nobody else wanted it; Brigham Young was determined to put a mountain range between Mormons and the people who were trying to kill us.  I have a Famous Pioneer Ancestor: Stephen Markham, who was in the '47 company.  He was married at the time, to Hannah Hogeboom Markham, who arrived the next year, took one look around, got back in her wagon with her three oldest sons, and kept on going, ending up in California.  We're from Stephen's third wife, Mary Curtis Markham; I grew up with my grandmother telling me Mary Markham stories.  He eventually was one of the founders of Spanish Fork, Utah.  My wife's family also has a Famous Pioneer Ancestor, Peter Maughan, who settled Cache Valley.

I absolutely honor their sacrifice, and when I sing "Blessed, honored Pioneer," I can't help but get a bit choked up.  But, talking about the Pioneers, I'm amused to think about who they were and what they did, and what Utah has become.

I. The Pioneers were illegal immigrants. 

When the Pioneers entered Salt Lake Valley, it was part of Mexico.  Granted, Mexico hadn't settled it, England also had a claim, and within a year, it would be ceded to the United States in the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo.  But it's not like Brigham asked permission.  Plus, a good case could be made that the land we settled was 'owned' by the Indian tribes who were living here.  Again, Brigham Young made some effort to get along with the Indian tribes--but we never paid for the land we settled.  (That's before we even get into the questionable legality of President Polk's war with Mexico; let that go.) 

II. The Pioneers were hippie theatre geeks.

Hippies?  Just look at 'em.  Theatre geeks?  More than almost any other religious group of the nineteenth century. Our Theatre Geek In Chief, Brigham Young loved theatre--thought it a 'civilizing influence', though he did cast a gimlet eye on such innovations as theatrical realism and skimpy costumes. Still, our Mormon ancestors set up traveling theatre companies, they had theaters in nearly every town (sometimes called, more palatably, 'opera houses') and shortly after arriving in Salt Lake, a guy named H. E. Bowring threw up a playhouse, in addition to another public building called the Social Hall.  The Pioneers may not have had any standing churches at first, but they had two theaters.  By 1861, they'd built one of their first, biggest structures, the Salt Lake Theater, which became an important road house, as well as home to a local theatre company.  Big big names performed there, from Sarah Bernhardt to Edwin Booth to Enrico Caruso, to no fewer than four Barrymores, including Drew Barrymore.  (No, not her, her famous actor ancestor).  The Pioneers were trying to carve a living out of poor soil and little water, but evenings, it was pull out the fiddle and dance time.  Or go see the latest traveling show. Of course we're totally different today--we attend our semi-annual General Conference in the Conference Center.  Which has a state-of-the-art theater attached.  Even a little burg like Cedar City is home to a Tony-winning Shakespeare Festival.  And I grew up with Road Shows.  So, theatre geeks?  You bet. 

III.  The Pioneers radically re-defined marriage, and their sexual mores were considered shocking, especially by Republicans.

I'm not sure if you're aware of this--like maybe you've just arrived from Mars--but it's possible that some of our Pioneer ancestors married more than one woman.  This was called "polygamy."

Okay, we all know this.  My Famous Pioneer Ancestor had six wives--my line traces back to wife number three.  It's quite true that many early Church leaders, when they heard of polygamy, were appalled by it.  Still, it happened.  A lot.  It was one of the defining features of Mormonism.  Still is: it's often the one thing people know about us.

And yes, it's awful, and it's incomprehensible, and it's a blot on our history, and today, I'm not alone in wishing it never happened.  Am I alone in also finding it funny?  I mean, a lot of our General Authorities said some kind of hilariously anti-monogamous things in our history, stuff that reads oddly today, and it's not surprising that they did.  They were under attack, and they knew full well the manifest hypocrisies of Victorian marriage--the sexual double standard, the astonishing prevalence of prostitution.  And so they defended marriage, their marriage, the version of marriage they were obliged to practice and defend.  As for Republicans--their platform from 1856 on included strong language attacking the 'twin relics of barbarism': slavery and polygamy.  Yep, the Party of Lincoln hated Mormon marriage customs. 

Did polygamy mistreat women?  Not sure that's the right question.  Did polygamy mistreat women any worse than every other institution of the nineteenth century did?  Certainly a great many Mormon women found comfort, sisterhood, and the possibility of equality within polygamy that, in their view, would have been denied them outside it.  Can we say that, while also finding contemporary vestiges of polygamy appalling? 

IV.  The Pioneers were a buncha Commies.

Communists, in other words.  More Karl Marx than Adam Smith.  Not exactly free market champions. 

Well, they actually based it on the New Testament. Call it communalism, or collectivism, or the United Order, our Pioneers shared all things in common, had no poor among them, believed in cooperative stores instead of for-profit stores.  The Godbeites, one of the more prominent Utah splinter groups, rejected Brigham's economic program--they wanted laissez-faire economics.  (They were also into spiritualism, and also wanted to start literary magazines--imagine them as a cross between Ayn Rand, oijue boards, and the Association for Mormon Letters).

I suppose you could argue that Brigham Young got his economics from the likes of Robert Owen more than Marx and Engels.  Brigham founded some 200 United Order-ish communities in small towns in Utah; they don't seem all that different from what Owen was doing in New Harmony Indiana.  But Brigham's mission to England showed him laissez-faire economics in its most completely libertarian incarnation--it's safe to say that he was not a fan.   

Anyway, that's our Pioneer heritage.  Pinko theatre geek sexual adventurers. I'm proud that they're my people.  

Monday, July 23, 2012


Brave is Pixar's first Disney Princess movie.  Put another way, Brave is what results when the incredibly bright people at Pixar apply their collective cool intelligence to the idea of a Disney Princess movie. 

We all know the Disney template.  Beautiful young princess--usually mother-less--meets her Prince Charming, but first has to defeat a Wicked Old Crone, before living happily ever after.  It's a template suited for gender relations ca. 1955, mock-worthy sexist nonsense masquerading as romantic fantasy, and yet, because of the extraordinary beauty of the animation and the music and the voice talents employed, seduously seductive.

This is not to say I don't like those films.  I love those films, especially all the Alan Menken musicals following The Little Mermaid, and continuing onward: Beauty and the Beast, Aladdin, Pocahontas, Hercules, Tangled.   Yes, I even liked Pocahontas, despite the frankly atrocious way it distorted that particular, essentially tragic,  American origin story.  "Colors of the wind" may have been reassuring New Age silliness--the noble savage myth writ large--but it's a gorgeously animated scene, in a lovely movie.

But it's time we moved beyond Disney Princesses. And Disney knew it too; hence, the movie Enchanted, which delightfully deconstructed Disney Princess movies, mocking the idea that love at first sight could, in one day, lead to happiness ever after.  In a movie in which the heroine meets her True Love and, in one day, falls in love, leading to happily ever after.  They baked a charmingly irreverent cake.  And then ate it too.  (Thanks to wickedly spot-on performances by Amy Adams and James Marsden, whose delightfully empty-headed Prince Charming steals every scene in which he appears.)  It's the Disney Princess icon subverted, but that subversion is also contained, even reified. 

But now, Pixar does a Princess movie.  And here's what they did: they took princesses seriously.  They rooted the movie in the reality of actual medieval princesses.  And it's brilliant. 

The fact is, an actual princess had one main job; dynastic marriage. Her job was not to find Troo Luv, and it wasn't to live happily ever after.  It was to prevent war.  What an actual princess needed was training in the arts of persuasion, diplomacy, in the political utility of traditional femininity.  And the person providing that training pretty much had to be her mother. 

So the entire movie, all of it, centers on the relationship between Princess Merida, and her mother, Queen Elinor.  And Merida's a difficult pupil.  She doesn't want to be charmingly, sweetly, feminine.  She wants to ride her horse really fast while shooting at targets with her bow and arrows.  She likes climbing sheer cliff faces.  She's a physical, active, athletic young woman, impetuous and fool-hardily brave.  She is also, of course, a wonderfully appealing character, especially as voiced by the brilliant Scottish actress Kelly McDonald.  She's also driving her mother (superbly voiced by Emma Thompson) crazy. 

Our sympathies are with Merida.  But Elinor's right.  What this strong, loving, queenly mother is trying so desperately to teach her daughter are basic concepts of adulthood: responsibility, duty, the sense of some larger obligations than her own pleasures and preferences.

King Fergus (the wonderful Billy Connolly), is a great Dad, bluff, strong, a man of immense appetites, who finds humor in everything, a big overgrown kid.  Elinor admits having had reservations when she had to marry, but there's no question of the bond she shares with her lovably buffoonish husband. She has found true love, and she is living happily ever after.  But to accomplish that required patience and sacrifice and hard work.  And Merida doesn't want any part of any of it.

And the stakes are high.  We're told that Fergus is king over four clans, his, plus three other clan chieftains who aren't terribly interested in being ruled.  Each has an oldest son, and Fergus, an oldest daughter.  She must marry one of those sons, or civil war beckons.  Granted, the rival chieftains are presented comically, as half-savage dunces.  And the three potential suitors are pretty funny, a comically unprepossessing lot. 

You know the formula: we'll meet the three suitors, and they'll all be doofuses, and then Merida will meet Her One True Love, but someone unsuitable, and that'll be the obstacle, which will work itself out in the end.  But that never happens.  There is no good suitor.  True love does not beckon.

Instead Merida turns her mother into a bear.

Sorry.  Oops. Spoiler alert, guys. My bad. . . .

But it's really brilliant.  Because isn't that what children think of their parents' demands?  My Mom's such a bear!  She's such a beast to me!  Elinor the bear embodies all her daughter's worst imaginings, the unfairness of making her demands of me, of making me wear a dress and brush my hair, and . . . be a Princess, the person I have to become, for reasons of state, to prevent war and violence.

Of course, Merida does come to realize how much her mother loves her, and she does become the diplomat we've already seen, so superbly, in her mother.  And her mother lightens up too.  Things do all work out.  But not before the movie has explored, in tenderness and with great insight and intelligence, one of the best mother and daughter relationships I've ever seen in a film.  No romantic ending here--it would simply get in the way.

Of course, the movie's gorgeous.  Merida's marvelous shock of long curly red hair is a triumph of state of the art animation--my wife and I wondered how many animators were responsible for just that hair.  The movie includes three musical montage scenes, and the music--contemporary Celtic, of course--is stunningly beautiful.  Not a Pixar thing, really, those montages, but it's a Disney Princess movie, of course it has to have wonderful music.  Merida has three little brothers, triplets, who steal the show, along with all their castle's cookies--they introduced an impish humor to a movie rich in comedy anyway.  (I especially loved this detail--one of the suitors, who speaks in so thick a Scottish accent that his every line is unintelligible; props to voice actor Kevin McKidd).

Back in the early nineties, Disney animation went on a roll; all those glorious Menken musicals. Pixar's roll is greater, and has lasted much longer.  It's gotten to the point where the one movie I most long for, every movie season, is the new Pixar.  And now, with Brave, they've raised the bar higher than ever.  It's not just gloriously beautiful, it's smart and human and real.  Its the best Princess movie ever, because it's the first to take the job of Princess as seriously as it deserves.

Saturday, July 21, 2012


Shock.  Horror.  Fear.  Incredulity.  Switching channels back and forth, CNN to MSNBC and back again.  The images: kids queuing up to see a midnight show of a popular movie.  An awesome movie, a movie we've all been waiting to see.  A normal thing, a happy thing, a teenaged fun thing, hang out with your friends, wait in line, chattering with anticipation.  My daughter and her friends did it just the other night, went to a midnight showing of Katy Perry's concert movie.  We teased her about it: 'ooo, Katy Perry, well!'  She stood up for herself.  They went, they had a great time.  It's what kids do.

Yesterday morning, I woke up, and my daughter told me and we spent the morning watching.  CNN.  MSNBC.  Looking for some bewilderment slightly more enlightening than what we felt. 

From now on, when we think of Christopher Nolan's Dark Knight Rises, that film, that massive artistic achievement, will carry with it an unwanted association with actual mass murder, not artistically rendered violence, but actual murder,  like the Beatles' Helter Skelter does for those of us who remember Charles Manson. 

It's incomprehensible.  Theologically--God clearly does allow this, this is clearly something God could prevent and doesn't. This is in His plan, like earthquakes and tsunamis.  And Dr. King and Gandhi and the letter from Birmingham.  Psychological--lots of people with serious mental illness do not go on shooting sprees.  Political--we want to make sense of it, and so we fall back on old hardened positions.  'Gun control!'  'No, no, don't you dare: Second Amendment!' 

Holmes purchased his weapons legally, he quite possibly seemed sane enough to pass a background check, had one been required.  He purchased two handguns, a semi-automatic rifle and a shotgun within a few weeks, purchases that would have been illegal in states other than Colorado, but which would have been legal, say, in Utah, where I live. But the idea of exploiting this event for political purposes seems sickeningly cynical right now, and the pressure to change gun laws will dissipate each day that passes, and be gone in a week. We want to talk about gun control so we don't have to talk about far more unanswerable questions.  We want to cling to the illusion that we're Doing Something.

Right now, we don't know anything, we don't know why a med student with good grades and no criminal record would go nuts like this. If he went nuts.  The language we use is the language of mental illness.  He 'went nuts.'  He's a 'nutbag.'  He would have to be crazy, we think.  That's the language of our day, our way of distancing ourselves from the unfathomable depths of evil.  It's an aberration, a guy flipping out, a guy losing it. 

But we know how carefully he plotted it.  He calls himself 'The Joker,' and he seems to have planned the event around a lethal punch line to a murderous joke--the booby-trapped apartment.  He intended to take cops with him.  As though he wanted to make Heath Ledger's Joker proud.

In Downfall, Bruno Ganz plays Hitler in his last days, and in one scene talks about the human cost of ordering the Holocaust.  It's difficult, he says, to set aside one's human feelings.  It's hard.  It's certainly necessary, or you wouldn't be able to bring yourself to do it.  But it's never easy.  You have to decide to do it.  When I was in high school, I went to New York with some friends, and we climbed to the top of our hotel room, and stood on the 74th floor ledge. Stood there, looking down.  And I remember how it felt.  Part of me wanting to jump.  Feeling sick at my stomach, because part of me wanted to jump.

At the grocery store yesterday, I saw a family shopping, Mom, Dad, four little boys.  The two oldest boys were running around, hiding behind food displays, shooting at each other with finger-pistols.  "Pyooo pyooo," they'd go. "Pyooo pyooo pyooo!"  And then one of them died dramatically, flinging back his arms and sprawling on the floor, his brother giggling, him giggling, his poor exhausted Mom looking up: "Jeremy, come on.  Cut it out."  Jeremy laughing on the floor.  "But I'm dead," he said.  Mom looked exasperated.  "If you guys will cool it, I'll buy some ice cream."  Kids, kidding around.  "Pyooo pyooo pyooo."

And the movie industry is about the creation of fantasies, primarily fantasies for audiences of young men, fantasies of consequence-less violence, endlessly exciting athletic prowess at violence, followed by the promise of astonishing sexuality.  Awesome fight scenes, hot girls. And they've been constructing such fantasies, filling summers with them, since the phenomenal success of the first 'summer action movie,' Spielberg's Raiders of the Lost Ark.  Thirty years ago. 

And, fact, instances of violence in our society has been on a long and steady decline, our society measurably less violent today than ever before in our history, and that decline can be said to have begun more or less thirty years ago. 

And Dark Knight Rises has a scene in which the crowd at a football game is randomly and viciously slaughtered. 

Kids went to a movie, and terrible things happened, and we saw the best in human nature, first responders putting their lives at risk, people shielding other people as the shooter mowed 'em down, and we saw the worst in human nature.  And its an event that elides judgment, too horrific for answers, an event too awful for facile moralizing right or left.  

So we pray.  Why?  What do we do?  Where can we be safe?  We do not know.  We search for love, even here.  We find it; it simultaneously escapes us. This helps. I wish I could offer you something.  Comfort food: banana bread with cream cheese. Tea, maybe, or French hot chocolate.  Strawberries and cream and a slice of cake. 

I wish I had cake for multitudes. 


Friday, July 20, 2012

Shakespeare on film

Two different friends, in very different settings, recently asked me the same question: how do I get into Shakespeare?  We know Shakespeare's supposed to be great, and we've probably had to read him in high school, often in a setting that pretty much guarantees he won't seem cool.  Still, people I trust tell me Shakespeare's awesome.  How do I get into him?  What do you recommend?

My first reaction is to point out that Shakespeare was a playwright, a theatre guy, writing plays for dramatic production.  So the best way into him should be by seeing really good productions of his work.  The problem with that is finding those productions.  Shakespeare's performed a lot, and often rather badly.  If you go to a production and are bored out of your mind, my guess is, you won't be in any hurry to repeat the experience.  And there are no guarantees.  I've seen Shakespeare done in major productions by important, famous actors which sucked, and I've seen Shakespeare done in tiny fifty-seat theaters by actors no one had ever heard of and it was brilliant.  (Including the best Twelfth Night I've ever seen.) 

You could read the plays.  I've read them all, and I've read some of them many times over, and I think reading Shakespeare can be a rich and rewarding experience, but for people just discovering Shakespeare, he can be difficult.  He was writing poetry in 16th century English.  Make sure you have a good edition--the Riverside or the Arden or something--with lots of footnotes, or you're going to spend a lot of time just trying to figure out what the heck he's talking about.  If you're lucky enough to take a Shakespeare class from an enthusiastic, knowledgeable and patient teacher, you'll have a tremendous experience.  But Shakespeare is taught poorly about as often as he's performed poorly.

But you can watch movies.  And here's the secret: Shakespeare works brilliantly on film. I can think of three reasons for this.  First, the stage Shakespeare was writing for was very fluid--just a bare platform, with maybe a chair or two in some scenes.  The plays were meant to flow, meant to really move.  Film does that: a jump cut in film isn't far off from a Shakespearean exuant.  Second, at the heart of any Shakespeare play is the soliloquy, those amazing moments when a character addresses the audience, tells 'em what s/he's thinking.  It actually works better in a film closeup than in some theaters, especially big proscenium houses, where the audience is way . . . over. . . . there.  Third, Shakespeare's language is poetic, built on imagery, on verbal equivalents to visual beauty.  Elaborate stage sets don't serve Shakespeare well--they take too long to move on and off.  But scenery is great in film.

Ron Rosenbaum has four films he recommends for starters.  One is the 1953 Peter Brook King Lear film, with Orson Welles.  It's available on Netflix, which has, I'm not kidding, like ten Lears available.  I prefer Ian McKellen's.  Rosenbaum also loves Olivier's Richard III. It's good, but McKellen, again, also has a good one.

This happens a lot. Henry V? Olivier's is great, but I prefer Branaghs.  Much Ado About Nothing?  Again, I love Branagh's, but can't wait for Joss Whedon's.  Do you prefer Baz Luhrman's Romeo + 
Juliet, or Franco Zeffirelli's more classically romantic Romeo and Juliet

I've previously blogged about Ralph Fiennes' new Coriolanus film.  A few friends responded by asking if I'd seen the David Tennant Hamlet.  I hadn't but checked it out, and was astonished by Patrick Stewart's superb Claudius.  Some people, including Rosenbaum, rave the Richard Burton Hamlet, which is indeed very good, but I'm still a fan of Derek Jacobi's, and think there's a lot to be said for Branagh's (just fast-forward his 'to be or not to be,' which he punts), and Ethan Hawke's (which has Bill Murray as a wonderful Polonius). 

Here's a starter kit of ten films I really like a lot, all of them available on Netflix:

Hamlet: Branagh's is uneven, but some scenes are terrific, and it's close to the entire play, uncut.  If you want to see a theatre-on-film version that's very good, try Kevin Kline's. 

King Lear:  Ian McKellen.

Macbeth: The one with Patrick Stewart.

Othello: I really love Laurence Fishburn's.  Very non-Matrix-y.

Much Ado About Nothing:  Branagh's version is so charming and lovely, this might be the one film I'd urge you to start with.

A Midsummer Night's Dream:  I really like Peter Hall's 1964 one, but there's a movie star version that's pretty good too, with Michelle Pfeiffer and Calista Flockhart and Dominic West and Christian Bale and Stanley Tucci, and . . . .

Romeo + Juliet. High school English teachers hate the Baz Luhrman film, which is as good a reason as I can think of to see it. 

As you Like It: Branagh again, this time with Bryce Dallas Howard as Rosalind. 

Coriolanus: with Ralph Fiennes.

Titus Andronicus, directed by Julie Taymor.  As close as we're ever going to get to Quentin Tarantino's Shakespeare.

This is only a few.  Shakespeare, it turns out, really is the best screenwriter in Hollywood right now. 

Thursday, July 19, 2012

Just because we can. . . .

I was reading the other day about doctors, ordinary general practitioner type doctors, who only treat rich people. For an annual fee (the article said it was around $15,000 a year), your doctor would guarantee that you would never have to wait for a doctor's visit.  No waiting room, no out of date magazines, no frustrating 'we can't see you until Friday' phone calls.  In fact, in a lot of these practices, the doc will make house calls.  And he'll also work with specialists so you don't have to wait there either.  Prescriptions--hand delivered to your home. 

In the article I read about this, the author thought this was a bad thing.  Of course some rich businesspeople are very busy, their time is worth money, and I can see how an annual fee guaranteeing doc availability is attractive.  These docs-to-the-rich don't see anywhere near as many patients as ordinary doctors do, which is why they can do this.  Rich guys can queue-jump because the queue isn't very long.  But, said the article, this is bad because it causes people to resent the rich. And we do sort of resent the rich, not because they're rich, but because we just sat in a doctor's waiting room for two hours reading back issues of Field and Stream, and when we finally saw our doctor, she was harried, and her exam was cursory, and we think she wrote a script for antibiotics just to get rid of us, and Scrooge McDuck got his doctor to come to his home.  And that's really aggravating.

(I'm not sure Mitt Romney gets this, by the way.  When he says "I pay all the taxes I owe, and not a nickel more", we think 'yeah, and you can afford accountants to find every possible loophole.'  And we resent it.  We don't resent him being rich.  We resent a tax code that seems so easily manipulable by rich guys.)  

Where I really relate to this is in commercial aviation.  I hate flying.  And I think I can make a case for flying being harder for me than it is for most of you.  I'm huge.  If you're a woman, and say you're 5'6" and weigh, say, 130.  I'm a foot taller than you, and weigh three times your weight.  Cramming myself into an airplane seat is painful, and stays painful the whole flight.  No position is comfortable. My illness also makes my legs ache. So I tend to really resent the people in first class.  I hate their extra leg room, their extra butt room.  I see them sipping on a pre-flight martini--one flight attendant just dealing with them--and I get kind of surly.  This is surely wrong of me, and I need to get over myself, and I am working on it.  But it's easier to not feel unkind thoughts if I'm able to book a flight on Southwest Airlines.  

It's like queue jumping at Disney World, where, again for a fee, you never have to wait in line for a ride or attraction.  You can buy a special pass that enables you to just jump ahead of everyone else.  If you see that, if you're waiting patiently for an hour to go on a ride, and you see Richie Rich get escorted to the front, you get frustrated, you get resentful, you end up disliking rich people.  The article I read also pointed out how bad this is for the kids of rich folks.  Their kids end up with this sense of entitlement, and that's unhealthy.  We all get that being rich is a good thing.  You live in nicer houses, you drive nicer cars, you eat at swankier restaurants, you fly in Elton John to perform for your spouse's surprise birthday parties.  We all get that.  But queue jumping seems . . . . more dickish.  We respond to it viscerally.  We want to punch someone who queue jumps in ways we don't want to punch people driving BMWs. 

But I also can't imagine wanting to make queue jumping illegal.  I think that to make Cadillac-doctoring illegal would be arrogant and stupid.  It would reinforce the 'liberals want to restrict our freedoms' narrative much loved by conservatives and libertarians.  And they'd be right.  In America, we do have the right and the freedom to be an arrogant jerk.

No, I think queue jumping should be socially discouraged, but not legislatively banned.  In other words, I totally get why queue jumpers are resented.  I get why rich folks would use their money to make their lives more convenient, and I'm okay with it, up to a point.  Disney World is the point at which I start to resent it.  I just wonder if we can suggest to folks 'just because you can, doesn't mean you should.'

Another example: political ads are ugly and mean and we all hate them.  And most political ads are dishonest, not because they're lying, but because they only tell one side of a story.  But it's possible to create political ads that aren't just deceptive, but that are just plain lies.  It's possible for politicians to say things about their opponents that are factually untrue. One example were the Swift Boat ads used to attack John Kerry.  John Kerry really did have a distinguished military record.  The ads just plain said things about him that weren't true. 

But actively mendacious political ads are hard to combat.  People do believe them, not that most people believe everything they see in a political ad, but in the 'well, there must be some truth to it' sense.  You can't really prosecute lying political ads.  And the public is heartily sick of 'you're a liar,' no, 'you're a liar' dialogue between politicians.  I think the whole world of political advertising is rotten, and bad for the country.  It breeds cynicism, it makes people hate politics.  Just because you can lie about your opponent, Iand probably get away with it), doesn't mean you should

Recently, two clergymen, one Christian and one Muslim, sent a letter to the heads of hotel chains, urging them to stop the practice of offering pay-per-view porn in their hotel rooms.  I thought that was awesome.  They urged hotels to stop this practice, not because it was illegal, and knowing it was profitable, but just because it was immoral.  Just because you can do this, doesn't mean you should. 

This whole post, turns out, is about rich people.  I'm not rich, and maybe that makes me feel morally superior to people who are, which is wrong of me and I should quit.  (Just because I can. . . .)  But when I go grocery shopping, how hard is it for me to go back to the cereal aisle and put back the box of Cap'n Crunch instead of hiding it in the zucchini bin?  How hard is it to be polite to the telemarketer, how hard is it to wait patiently in the parking lot instead of honking, how hard is it to actually drive the speed limit?  We can do all sorts of rude and obnoxious things.  Should we?

Please understand, I'm not equating rich people paying doctors for better service with porn.  I'm saying that people should perhaps think carefully about the moral implications of things they do, including things that are legal.  Just because we can do something doesn't mean we should. 

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Shakespeare Wars

I just read this amazing, great book, about a subject you wouldn't think would be exciting and addicting, but which is.  The book is Ron Rosenbaum, The Shakespeare Wars.  Published in 2006; Random House.  I bought it at the Shakespeare Festival in Cedar City because I needed something to read between shows and because it was on sale.  Ended up nearly missing a show because I got so caught up in it.

I bought The Shakespeare Wars because it sort of sounds like a book about, maybe, the anti-Stratfordians.  I thought it might be about the battles over who wrote the plays: William Shakespeare, glover's son from Stratford-upon-Avon, or someone else (Marlowe, Francis Bacon, or theory du jour, the Earl of Oxford).  Since the plays actually were written by Shakespeare, this would seem to be a tedious controversy, like arguing with people who think President Obama was born in Kenya.  (Note: he wasn't.)  But, hey, I thought, maybe Rosenbaum has a new take on it. 

It's not about that at all. Not at all.  It's about the various controversies and battles within the academy over what might strike some people as textual minutiae, but which in Rosenbaum's able hands, become fraught with tension and interest.  It's not about who wrote the plays (Shakespeare wrote the plays), or about biography or anything like that. It's about Shakespeare as a writer--what choices did he make, how much did he revise, what issues obsessed him, as revealed in the language.  It's about arguments and controversies between scholars who have given their lives to understand these plays, and who just don't agree. 

In Renaissance England, publishers published two kinds of books: quartos and folios.  Quartos were smaller, cheaper, and more plentiful--like paperback books today.  Folios were larger, more expensive, nicer, and rarer.  In 1623, seven years after Shakespeare's death, 36 of his plays were published by his colleagues John Heminges and Henry Condell in a folio edition which we know as the First Folio.  All of his plays are in it, except Pericles and Two Noble Kinsmen. (Both of which Shakespeare co-wrote with other guys).  Eighteen plays were published in quarto editions in Shakespeare's lifetime.

Here's what gets interesting: what do we do about plays published in both quarto and folio editions when they disagree?  Take Hamlet: it was published in two quartos and in the First Folio.  The first quarto (Q1) is generally considered a bad quarto--it's much shorter than the other two versions, and lines are garbled--'to be or not to be' reads like a parody.  A lot of scholars think it was a memorial reconstruction--the actor who played Marcellus wrote down what he could remember of the play and that then was published.  But other scholars disagree, including a passionate minority who think Q1 was Shakespeare's first draft. Q2 is called 'a good quarto'; it's longer than the Folio version (F1) by some 240 lines.  F1 also has some 80 lines that aren't in Q2. 

Until very recently, then, if you read "Hamlet," what you were reading was a scholarly reconstruction of the play, in which textual experts mixed and matched Q2 and F1 to create a composite play that was almost certainly never performed in Shakespeare's day.  (More recently, the tendency has been to publish Q2 and F1 and let students compare 'em).  What version did his company perform? No one knows.  Maybe, in performance, they did something like Q1--something short and garbled.  Maybe they did Q2, which Heminges and Condell (or Shakespeare or someone) rewrote for later publication in the Folio. Or maybe F1 was their performance text, and represents their cuts for performance.  Or maybe the Q2 publisher messed up.  Or maybe Shakespeare just kept working on it.

To give some idea of what this book has done for me, then. One tiny example. One fascinating issue is this: the soliloquy "how all occasions do inform against me" in the fourth act, and the last one in the play.  It's in Q2, but not in F1.  And, you know, this is Hamlet; his soliloquys are at the heart of the play. So does it belong in the play or not?  Scholars can argue--directors have to choose. 

Rosenbaum's intention is to invite us to really genuinely engage with these texts.  He points out, for example, that one difference between the quarto and folio versions of King Lear are Lear's dying words.  That's important stuff--Lear is such a tremendous character, and how we feel about him changes depending on those last few lines.  It's heartbreaking stuff either way, but are those dying words redemptive?  Nihilistic?  Hopeful?  Depends in part on which published version you prefer. 

Back to Hamlet then.  One might argue that "how all occasions do inform against me" isn't a particularly important soliloquy, and the play isn't impoverished by its omission.  In fact, it kind of slows the action down near the end of a very long play.  But I love that speech, and can't imagine cutting it.  And here's why. (And this is what Rosenbaum does: gets you thinking about these plays; got me thinking about Hamlet, a play I would give my left arm to direct some day.) 

I have seen many Hamlets: suffering Hamlets, mad Hamlets, mom-besotted Hamlets.  Very few address what seems to me a very important dimension of the play--the politics of it.  When a king dies, his son becomes king, not his brother.  When Hamlet's father dies, Hamlet's his heir--not Claudius.  The excuse Claudius seems to use for taking over is that Denmark is in peril, due to Fortinbras' invasion.  It's a national emergency.  But properly speaking, what Claudius should do is declare a regency, a temporary assumption of power until the proper king, Hamlet, can get back from college in Germany. 

That's why Act 1 scene 2 is so important.  That's the scene where Claudius solidifies his usurpation of power by acting as king--giving orders, sending ambassadors off.  Then he magnanimously declares that Hamlet will be his heir. Awfully big of you, there, pal.  That scene is where Claudius pulls it off--Hamlet doesn't say a word.  Imagine the court, everyone nervous, staring at Hamlet: what's he going to do?  Claudius leaves, and what's Hamlet's first soliloquy?  The self-loathing "oh that this too too solid flesh would melt." 

So, Fortinbras.  Fortinbras is a small part, and he's often cut.  Personally, I'd cut Horatio before I'd cut Fortinbras.  The single most important responsibility for a king was to provide for the succession--Hamlet is king for ten seconds, but he does that one thing--turns the kingdom over to Fortinbras.  Which suggests in turn how important Fortinbras is--he's the future.  He's the next guy.  Which takes us back to "how all occasions do inform against me."  That soliloquy is prompted by Hamlet watching Fortinbras' army heading off to battle against Poland.  He thinks about all those soldiers about to die, and for what?  For some foolish momentary political advantage.  Fortinbras is a man of action, he's decisive, but he's also indifferent to human suffering. And that's going to be the next king--the realpolitik conqueror.  It's a tough future Hamlet picks for his people, ruled by that guy.  Also inevitable, maybe? 

I also prefer the bleaker King Lear.  I like the quarto death scene.

But that's what I love about Rosenbaum's book.  You read, and you think about what you've read, one thought sparking more thoughts.  I was up all night thinking about Hamlet.  And Hamlet.   Can't ask more of a book than that. 

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

The MPAA rating system

The other night, my wife and I got War Horse from the kindly elves at Netflix.  We were excited to see it, in part because it was the only film nominated for Best Picture last year that we hadn't seen.  Plus it's Steven Spielberg, who for me is one of those directors you have to see all of: like Clint, like Quentin, like Paul Thomas Anderson and Wes Anderson and Joss Whedon . . . there are others. 

Anyway, it was good, very old-fashioned in its approach.  It felt like How Green Was My Valley, or Ryan's Daughter--it actually felt a lot like a David Lean film--beautifully staged tracking shots, lovely scenery, really obvious but great looking sets.  A boy and his horse kind of movie.  The premise is this really great horse that the military commandeers for WW I, but the boy who trained it never gives up, knows he will see his horse again.  And does, amidst the death and horror of war. Cue violins. 

Except it's a film about World War I.  Easily the stupidest war ever fought--completely unnecessary, vicious and brutal, courageous common soldiers led by generals of the most astonishing imbecility.  A war in which men proved again and again and again that an infantry march against entrenched troops armed with machine guns accomplishes exactly nothing except get a lot of people killed.  And Spielberg switches from a tone of elegiac beauty to Saving Private Ryan mode: a storm-the-trenches scene that was brutal and vicious and mean.  Later another scene that was hard to watch--one in which the horse, running panicked through no-man's-land gets tangled up in barbed wire.  So scenes about the ugliness of war.  Powerfully shot and edited. 

War Horse was given a rating of PG-13 by the Motion Picture Association of America. 

So the next movie we watched was a low-budget sci-fi thing called Primer.  Not a great movie--I spent a lot of the film trying to figure out what was going on, but intriguing and well acted.  Four yuppie engineers spend their evenings working on this invention of theirs, which turns out to be a time travel machine--time-space paradoxes ensue, and things don't turn out well for them.  Lots of nerd-speak overlapping dialogue.  No sex, at all.  No nudity, no violence, no Disturbing Images, at all, ever.  It's possible one of them dropped an F-bomb once or twice, in the midst of the waves of technical language they were using.  I didn't hear it if they did. 

Primer was given an R rating by the Motion Picture Association of America.

It would not be correct, it would not be accurate, to suggest that the MPAA rating system is somewhat flawed, or that it makes some mistakes, or that it could use a little revision.  The rating system is completely insane.  It doesn't work, at all.  It's ridiculous. 

If the purpose of the rating system is, as their website suggests, to provide parents some guidance for deciding which movies are appropriate for their children, it fails.  PG-13 suggests that parents could take their kids to see it.  War Horse?  Seriously?  Waaaaayyyy too violent for kids.  R, suggests that the movie has adult subject matter rendering it inappropriate for children.  Uh, Primer?  Kids might be bored by it, but that's it.  I was a nerdy 13 year old--I would have loved it. 

This is just two films, of course.  I used them because they're the last two films I saw.  I would argue that every movie is stupidly rated.  I'm hard pressed to think of one I've seen that wasn't. 

In LDS circles, of course, R-rated tends to mean 'a bad movie.'  I really think a lot of Mormons conflate 'R-rated' with 'pornographic.'  Mormons don't smoke or drink or see R-rated movies--that's the trope.  But it's silly.  The King's Speech? AtonementThe Descendents?  These are all powerful, redemptive, wonderful films; all were R-rated.   

My wife and I just don't pay any attention to it anymore.  I happen to remember what these last two films were rated because we were so outraged by War Horse's rating. (Not the film, mind you: we liked the film). Generally, though, we don't even bother to check.

What we do instead is watch previews and read reviews.  We really are informed consumers.  We don't just see everything.  We want to see good movies.  The rating system provides no guidance whatever in that effort. 

Monday, July 16, 2012

Something new every time

I've heard from some of my readers that my baseball posts are your least favorite.  Other readers like the baseball ones best.  Go figure.  When I started blogging, my intention was to be fairly eclectic--to write about pop culture AND Mormonism AND baseball AND politics--basically to reflect a poorly focused, intellectually incoherent mind.  The best baseball writing today is very stats-based, which isn't my thing, seeing as how it involves, like, math.  What I can offer is not so much a fan's perspective as an evangelist's.  I like the odd-ball stuff, the human interest-y parts of fan-ness.  I'm trying to turn non-baseball people on.  And the best way to start is by acknowledging the essential absurdity of the entire baseball fan enterprise.

And what I love about baseball is this: every baseball game I have ever attended, I have seen something new, something I have never seen before.  This goes back to high school, when my friend Bosco Elkins, who tried out for our high school team as a lark, who liked being on the baseball team because it gave him something to talk to girls about, finally got into a game, the last game of the year, and hit a grand slam home run in his only high school at bat.  Every time I go, I see something unique.  

So, okay, this:  Saturday night, Dodger Stadium, Padres vs. Dodgers.  On any given day, there are two games I'm more interested in than any others--I'm rooting for the Giants, and for whoever is playing the Dodgers.  Saturday, the Giants were winning their game, and if the Dodgers also lost, we'd be in first place. 

Top of the ninth inning, the Dodgers were leading 6-5.  The Padres had runners on second and third, with two out.  On third, with the tying run, was Everth Cabrera.  He had come into the game as a pinch-runner for Yonder Alonso. (I love "Everth" replacing "Yonder".  Baseball has the best names).

I do not know why Everth's parents named him that, but he's a fun player to watch, very fast, alert on the bases, a marginal player who has eked out a career with hard work and intelligence.  On second, was Will Venable, son of former Giants player Max Venable, who for some reason I always wanted to call "the venerable Venable." 

The Dodgers' pitcher was Kenley Jansen.  He's their best relief pitcher, a big guy with a monster fastball.  At bat was Alexi Amarista (another great name--the hero of a romance novel maybe?). 

So that's the situation.  At this point of the game, the Dodgers looked to be in good shape to win.  Amarista's not much of a hitter, and Jansen quickly blew two fastballs right past him.  One more, and the game would be over.  Cabrera, on third, is a matter of concern, but as long as Jansen can get Amarista out, he won't matter.  And Amarista looked completely overmatched. 

Time out works differently in baseball than in other sports.  In basketball and football, timeouts are limited, because both games have clocks.  You call time out to stop the clock from running, to give your team a chance to come back, perhaps.  To buy time.  In baseball, there is no clock--games last as long as they need to last.  Time is measured in outs, not hours.  There's no competitive advantage to calling time out.  So baseball has many more timeouts in a game--dozens, even hundreds. Every time a guy steals a base, for example, he immediately calls time out, so he can brush off his uniform. 

As he waited on the mound, ready to blow another fastball past the overmatched Avarista, Kenley Jansen apparently noticed that he had a little dirt lodged in one of the cleats of his shoes.  He decided to step to the side and knock the dirt out. Said he could get more on the fastball if he was sure of his footing.  He could have called time out for this purpose.  In fact, it would have been normal, routine for him to do just that.  For some reason, he didn't.  He just thought he'd deal with it.  So he stepped off, dealt with his cleat.  And Everth Cabrera stole home

The video is particularly great.  For one thing, the cameraman missed Cabrera initially; the producer was busy following Amarista.  Jansen recovered quickly, and fired the ball home.  But he was so startled by Cabrera's moxie, that he made a terrible throw, way over catcher A. J. Ellis' head.  The umpire was so discombobulated by the play that he made the wrong call, calling Cabrera out, then quickly reversing himself.  And then, Jansen, distraught, made another stupid error.  In that situation, Ellis off chasing the wild throw home, somebody has to cover home plate.  There was still another runner, Venable, rounding third. The fielder responsible for home plate in that situation is the pitcher--Jansen. And he didn't realize it until it was too late--you can see Venable sliding in home with the winning run, with Jansen still ten feet from home. 

What a smart, heads-up play by Cabrera.  Great alertness as well from Venable.   Post-game interviews; you felt a little bad for poor Jansen.  Me, there's a great German word for how I felt: schadenfreude.  Joy at the failure of others. 

Best of all: it happened to the Dodgers.  Heh heh heh heh.

Friday, July 13, 2012

The Snakes on a Plane story

By popular request: my Snakes on a Plane story.  I've told this story a few times; enjoy.

Snakes on a Plane is one of those ridiculous movies where the premise is so preposterous that it becomes a can't miss sort of thing-- a Hollywood high concept thing,like Cowboys vs. Aliens, or Abraham Lincoln: Vampire HunterSnakes had Samuel L. Jackson, dropping F-bombs and fighting snakes--I'd seen the previews, and knew it was One of Those. A terrible movie in every sense. 

So.  Summer of 2006, I was in San Diego.  A local theatre was doing a play of mine; I was in town to meet with the cast, and see the production.  I didn't have a lot of money, and San Diego hotels are notoriously expensive, so I ended up at the cheapest place I could find: the San Diego Motel Six Hotel.  Accommodations were a tribute to the virtues of monkish austerity; basically a bed and a bathroom.  Best of all, the location: San Diego's a nice town, but it has a skeevy section, and that's where we were.  Next door to the hotel was a cafe, where for breakfast you could get french toast, a glass of OJ and two slices of bacon for $3.50.  You got your food, and then sat in plastic chairs outside the place, eating breakfast and watching a SWAT team chase down drug dealers on the roof of the building across the street.  I enjoyed it, especially enjoyed chatting with my fellow inmates, and became friends with Carlos and Julio, in town for a kick-boxing tournament.  Carlos was competing, and Julio was his trainer/coach. 

So one day, I didn't have anything going on, and after breakfast, thought maybe I'd see some sights--Sea World, perhaps? I went out to my rental car, and a woman was draped across it.  She was in bad shape; incoherent, a nasty sore on her leg.  I couldn't get her off the car, and went back to the hotel to ask for help.  The desk clerk was no help.  It was apparently hotel policy to Not Get Involved.  But Carlos and Julio were in the lobby, and they overheard me and went out with me to the parking lot. 

Julio, turns out, was an EMT.  That meant, in California, he legally had to help someone in need of medical attention.  Not that he wouldn't have anyway.  So he checked the woman out, and the three of us got her in the car and got out our phones and found the closest hospital.  We dropped her off there, and talked to their staff--they said they'd take good care of her--she was in bad shape, and the docs said it was a good thing we'd brought her in. 

And then the three of us looked at each other, kind of psyched. I mean, it's not every day you get to save someone's life.  We were pumped.  And Carlos said, "man, we should do something, maybe go to a movie or something."  And I said, "absolutely."  Back to our cell phones, we found a theater close by.  And it was showing Snakes on a Plane.

It was a perfect movie for that situation.  Of course, it was ridiculous.  But it had lots of action, lots of nasty snakes for Our Heroes to fight off, lots of completely gratuitous sex and violence, lots of stupid dialogue.  I love the moralism of films like that.  It's not just that the bad guys lose and the good guys win (and find Troo Luv).  The nasty Aussie businessman that tosses a lap dog into the maws of a python--he's evil and must die.  But the selfish jerk rapper character finds a way to redeem himself.  The hot couple who crowd into a lavatory together are going to be killed by a snake, while the hot girl with the dog ends up being saved by the kickboxer.  (And let me tell you, there's nothing like watching a movie with a heroic kickboxer in the company of two kickboxers).  We were laughing, cheering, making snarky comments, me, Julio and Carlos, the only three people at that matinee.  It was a thoroughly satisfactory movie experience.

So, Snakes on a Plane.  A bad movie, to be sure.  But it turns out to be the perfect movie to watch with two Hispanic kickboxers after saving the life of a drug addict prostitute. 

To everything, a season and a time. . . .

Thursday, July 12, 2012

Mitt Romney at the NAACP

I actually like Mitt Romney. In fact, one thing I'm grateful for in this fall election is that we're genuinely choosing between two moral, decent guys; family men, good folks.  This isn't by any means inevitable.  It's not terribly hard to imagine this election being between Newt Gingrich and John Edwards, for example. Scary thought, that. 

I know we're not supposed to like Romney, we liberals; we're supposed to be appalled by the Cayman Islands' accounts, we're supposed to construct 'Romney' as a cross between Scrooge McDuck and Bernie Madoff.  I don't.  He's a private equity guy.  He made his money honestly, and according to the ethical practices of people in his profession.  Nor do I see his policies as suggesting some core of rottenness in his character.  He's a Mormon patriarch writ large.  I know fifty of them in my stake.  Call him Friday night and tell him you having a moving van arriving Saturday morning, and he'll be there, bright and early, work gloves tucked into his belt, a smile on his face. 

I have another reason to think well of him.  I live in Utah, and remember the Olympics here with great fondness.  He did a good job, showing up with the Games in shambles and managing things efficiently.  The Salt Lake Games were a triumph--I give him full credit.

Having said all that, I can't imagine voting for him, and I think his election would be a disaster for the country. 

Both Romneys, good guy Romney and hopelessly-wrong-on-policy Romney were on display in his recent speech at the NAACP convention.  I applaud him for accepting an invitation to speak at the NAACP.  I saw headlines calling his speech a cynical ploy for white voters.  I don't see it that way.  I think he was genuinely hoping to persuade people to vote for him. Knowing that African-American voters are skeptical about him, he went anyway, and made a case for his candidacy.  And the case he made is a good one, in this sense--he assumed that African-American voters are primarily concerned about the economy, and so he made that the focus of his message; how his policies will help the middle-class. 

But the specific policies he proposed are utter nonsense.  I'm sorry for putting it so strongly.  But let me make the case.

He said he had five specific proposals.  Number one: "First, I will take full advantage of our energy resources, and I will approve the Keystone pipeline from Canada." President Obama favors the Keystone pipeline too.  It's going to get built.  It won't create 'a million jobs' as Romney suggested.  It's more like 10,000 jobs, half of them in Canada.  The way TransCanada counts job growth is misleading--if they create 10, 000 jobs, and the job takes two years, they count it as 20,000.

Second: "I will open up new markets for American products. We are the most productive major economy in the world, so trade means good jobs for Americans.  But trade must be free and fair, so I’ll clamp down on cheaters like China and make sure that they finally play by the rules."   Fair trade negotiations with China have been on-going for fifteen years. We have no leverage in negotiating with China.

Third:  "I will reduce government spending. Our high level of debt slows GDP growth and that means fewer jobs."  If this were true, it would be because our debt has driven up interest rates.  Interest rates have never been lower. "If our goal is jobs, we must, must stop spending over a trillion dollars more than we earn." This is like saying 'in order to eat healthier foods, we first must go water-skiing.'  Cutting spending means firing federal employees. It doesn't make sense to eliminate jobs in order to create jobs. "To do this, I will eliminate expensive non-essential programs like Obamacare, and I will work to reform and save Medicare and Social Security, in part by means-testing their benefits."  Obamacare isn't non-essential for poor families desperate to find affordable treatment for their sick kids.  And 'means-testing' means cutting benefits. 

Fourth: "I will focus on nurturing and developing the skilled workers our economy so desperately needs and the future demands." Basically, he's talking about education reform.  But since he's talking about cutting in half the Education Department budget, I'm not sure what specifically he means here.

Fifth: "I will restore economic freedom. This nation’s economy runs on freedom, on opportunity, on entrepreneurs, on dreamers who innovate and build businesses. These entrepreneurs are being crushed by high taxation, burdensome regulation, hostile regulators, excessive healthcare costs, and destructive labor policies. I will work to make America the best place in the world for innovators and entrepreneurs and businesses small and large."

Wow.  Where to start?  Cutting regulation, cutting corporate taxes, eliminating unions, and allowing businesses to eliminate health insurance benefits. That's what he's saying.

Okay, I'm not opposed to cutting some very specific regulations.  I think Dodd-Frank is a poorly conceived legislation.  I wouldn't even mind reforming Sarbanes-Oxley.  But the 'cut regulations' rhetoric is what got us into this mess in the first place.  Bond markets were essentially unregulated; that's what went wrong.  I agree that Dodd-Frank doesn't fix the problem. But what we need are stronger regulations, not weaker ones. And 'hostile regulators?'  Aren't cops supposed to be hostile to crooks? 

What he's proposing is Bush-onomics, redux.  Cutting taxes for rich guys, again?  We want to add another ten trillion to our debt? 

He began his speech by saying that he doesn't just care about rich guys. Rich guys will be fine, he says.  He wants prosperity for everyone.  But his policies, vaguely worded though they are, will raise the deficit, raise unemployment, and increase the income gap between rich and poor, while making it all the more difficult for poor folks to get affordable health care.  That's if we're lucky, and we don't get another massive recession. 

I think he's a good guy.  I'd love him to be my home teacher. I think his policies are massively wrong-headed.  I can't imagine a circumstance under which I would vote for him.