NATO Protest: 20 May 2012

Our friend, the photographer George Henry was at the NATO protest on Sunday. And for the kindness of covering the event, he was beaten up and arrested. Of course, that doesn’t distinguish him from many people at the event. In the photo below, we see our protectors of order protecting the order. George Henry has 29 high resolution images up at his website. Check them out!

Sarah Palin: Stupid and Evil Defined

<%image(20120523-palinfox.jpg|386|242|Sarah Palin on Fox News)%>

I take back anything nice or understanding I ever said about Sarah Palin. She is stupid—at least compared to other people who are around her—people like Sean Hannity, who are not themselves intellectual giants. Ditto for her morality, which at least is no worse than that of those who are around her. When I say—as I will from now on—that she is stupid and evil, this is what I mean.

Famous Blue Raincoat

Songs of Love and HateIn a conversation, Leonard Cohen came up—in particular, his song Famous Blue Raincoat. It is my kind of song. It is written as a letter to a brother. It recounts the story of the brother cheating with the writer’s wife: “So you treated my woman to a flake of your life / And when she got home she was nobody’s wife.” Famous Blue Raincoat is filled with the kind of resignation and tired bitterness that seems to define adult life.

Leonard Cohen came up in a discussion of Jacques Brel. In discussing him and having to defend my high opinion of him, I have come to see that what I most connect with is the sadness, anger, and bitterness of his songs—both in writing and in singing. See if you can spot these elements in this recent performance of Famous Blue Raincoat:

“Thanks for the trouble you took from her eyes / I thought it was there for good, so I never tried.” Wow.

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Fuente Ovejuna

Lope de VegaI recently read the Angel Flore and Muriel Kittel translation of Lope de Vega’s Fuente Ovejuna. It was written right at the end of Shakespeare’s career, when he was writing such gems as Henry VIII and The Two Noble Kinsmen. Fuente Ovejuna is not a perfect play by any means, but by the standards of the time, it is a classic.

The main thing one notices while reading it is that it has great dramatic momentum. It certainly has speeches and songs, but they are short. It resembles nothing so much as what a group of high school students would create if asked to put on a play about this historical event.

The synopsis of Fuente Ovejuna is really quite simple. The lord of the town is misbehaving by raping many of the young girl. Finally, the town men rise up and kill the lord. Given that the plot is so simple, the play can deal with the characters, and more important, their interactions.

No character is more important or well written than Laurencia. I know of no female character in all of Shakespeare who can compare with her. There are reasons for this, of course. Vega had actual women actors playing his female characters whereas Shakespeare had boys. As Gary Taylor has noted, this tended to limit the females in his plays to pretty young things and old hags. The only Shakespearean character that strikes me at all like Laurencia is Beatrice in Much Ado About Nothing. But even Beatrice is at heart a sad sop. Laurencia is captured by the lord, but manages to escape before being raped but after being beaten. She finds the men of the town and yells at them for allowing all that has happened. She shames them into action.

One of my great annoyances about Shakespeare is the density of the text—the overuse of allusions and puns. It is hard to say if Lope de Vega suffers from these problems, because I read an English translation. But it doesn’t seem as though he does. It also seems likely that he didn’t have time for such nonsense. Shakespeare wrote 38 plays (more or less); Lope wrote many hundreds. I’m all for craft, but not when it just annoys me.

The only major flaw of Fuente Ovejuna is that it throws in scenes about the higher lords and the King. This is a problem that Shakespeare shares, but to a much worse extent. In most of Shakespeare’s plays, you can get nauseous from the rapid scene changes. This is not the case here. And there is a reason for these scenes. But it is clear that the play could have focused entirely on the town with what must be more recent theatrical innovations.[1]

Just like Shakespeare is rarely performed in the Spanish speaking world, Lope de Vega is rarely performed in the English speaking world. There is a whole Spanish filmed version of the play online. But mostly, even in Spanish, Fuente Ovejuna is performed in adaptations. Here is a collection of scenes from a caberet act based on the play:

Overall, Fuente Ovejuna is an excellent play, especially for its time. We English speakers should definitely pay more attention to Spanish golden age theater. Theater that begins and ends with the English Renaissance is a very poor theater indeed.

[1] This is the one thing that most defines early 17th drama: the inclusion of lots of narrative that the audience just doesn’t care about. Think of Romeo and Juliet. Did we have to see the apothecary scene? We learned everything we needed when Romeo dies, “Oh true apothecary! Thy drugs are quick.”

The Meaning of Facebook

Facebook SucksAs regular users know, I read Ezra Klein regularly, but I have problems with him. He is too intent on seeing both sides of every conflict, even when he has to strain credulity to do so. Thirty years ago, the truth was somewhere between left and right in this country—more to the left, but the right had actual ideas and some of them were good. Since then, both parties have taken a brisk walk along the loony pier. But in recent years, the right has looked more like Usain Bolt[1] than mom’s power walk group. If the truth is anywhere in the left-right Overton Window of American politics, it is in the Democratic Party camp. It is quite simply not true that the truth lies between left and right in this country. The right have jumped off the loony pier and are now swimming in the fascist ocean.

All of this is not to say that Ezra Klein isn’t a smart and insightful guy. There’s a reason I read him every day. And that reason was on display last Friday when he hosted The Rachel Maddow Show. He really gets to the core of income inequality and why it is a problem in this video that should not be controversial:

I’ll let the video speak for itself, because I think it does. But I do what to say something about Facebook.

Facebook is not that great, but if you like it, well, a rich life is its own reward. But the main thing is that Facebook is not innovative. There is nothing important in Facebook that wasn’t in lots of other social networking sites before. Facebook had two things that were critical: plenty of start-up cash because the founders were well connected (mostly to their wealthy parents) and luck. Sometimes the best plan is to have a little luck. But it continues to annoy me that Steve Jobs and Bill Gates and now, I can hardly believe this, Mark Zuckerberg are considered technological messiahs. Steve Jobs was a marketing genius. Bill Gates was a ruthless businessman. And Mark Zuckerberg was a nerd with a banal idea, like millions of others who don’t have his connections. There are actual geniuses in the computer world—Linus Torvalds and Mitch Kapor come immediately to mind—but they aren’t the guys you see on the cover of Time Magazine.

Update (21 May 2012 10:28)

Silicon Valley likes to think it operates as a pure meritocracy, e.g., it’s the best teams and ideas which get funded. In practice, as luminaries from John Doerr to Ron Conway acknowledge, key decisions are often guided by a combination of pattern-matching based on superficial characteristics and the network of people you already know.Mitch Kapor on why there aren’t more minorities in Silicon Valley

[1] Usain Bolt is a world record holding Jamaican sprinter. Here he is one of the times he set the world record for the 100 meter dash (he has since beat this time by 0.18 seconds):

Klan Members for Obama!

<%image(20120520-kkk.jpg|450|308|Klu Klux Klan and Their Fabulous Outfits)%>

Jim Lo Scalzo spent last summer in Southwestern Virginia taking pictures of the resurgent Klu Klux Klan. Before we get to the great article he wrote for Bag News, I feel I must tell you that I had no idea the Klan outfits were so beautiful. They are really gorgeous. If they would embrace their inner gayness, I think they might get over all that hate.

Scalzo noticed something in his discussions with Klan members: they often surprised him.

For example, one wrote to him about visiting the Rosa Parks museum in Alabama. According to this guy who hates blacks, it was great and shouldn’t be missed. (Remember this: the Rosa Parks Museum is a “must see” if you are in Alabama. If a bigot doesn’t know, who does?)

When it comes to economic justice, the Klan members tend toward the liberal. This isn’t exactly surprising. I think the vast majority of Republicans would sound very liberal if you got them off the subject of “all my tax dollars going to undeserving minorities.”

Scalzo write:

Last summer’s budget battle between President Obama and congressional Republicans seemed to crystallize the economic clash as one between the haves and have-nots—a dynamic not lost on those I was photographing. Even if most Klan members did not admit siding with president Obama, they openly railed against Republican budget proposals, specifically the GOP’s attempts to cut social programs like Medicaid and food stamps while maintaining tax breaks for the wealthy.

Klu Klux Klan for Obama, 2012. When you start seeing the bumper stickers, remember you read it here first.

Who Gets to be a Hypocrite Around Here?

John Scalzi at his Whatever Blog has a great flowchart explaining who gets to be a dick on his website:

John Scalzi

I would create something similar, but that isn’t the way it works around here. In general, anyone can be as big a dick as they want. I just don’t have enough people commenting to complain. In fact, I love it when someone yells at me.

As I was preparing to post this, Rafael yelled at me about being mean to Moe Tucker and more generally The Velvet Underground. This is strange, because I love the band. Some people are such big fans that they can brook not even the smallest insults. Thus, I believe it is with Rafael. Here’s a taste, but check out the whole thing along with my response:

This article seemed like some kind of ill fated attempt to get people to stop fretting over her political views, but instead of just pointing out “she can believe what she wants, she’s not obligated to be liberal because of her counterculture past, ect.” you basically excused [expressed? attacked?] her political views as “Crazy” in a very condescending manner, and pointed out that she’s “losing her mind because she’s old”. does telling people to leave her alone about her politics; then spending half the post ranting about how she only believes this because she’s old and debating whatever she says make much sense to you? I am not a tea party supporter, and I in fact disagree heavily with them, but I cant dismiss things she genuinely believes in as “old people nonsense”. nice post, hypocrite.

Who gets to be a hypocrite on this website? I do! I alone! Ha ha ha ha!


John Scalzi’s comment policy is very funny. Check it out.

TED Talks Show True Colors

Ted TalksThere’s been much controversy about Nick Hanauer’s talk for TED. He made an argument that shouldn’t even have to be made: high levels of inequality are not only morally wrong but bad for the rich as well as the poor and middle class. At first, the head of TED, Chris Anderson, would not post the video because he claimed it was too partisan. This didn’t shock me, because I think TED talks have a distinct bias. They are often very good, but they definitely push a particular socially liberal, economically conservative line. You’ll never hear anything noticeably outside the Overton Window.

This afternoon, TED finally posted the video, saying that they would let viewers decide for themselves. There’s a thought!

Ezra Klein, hardly a radical, noted that the speech was not partisan. “To my ears, Hanauer framed the issue in a way that was explicitly nonpartisan. The only mention of either party comes at the beginning” when he mentioned both parties disapprovingly.

Here is the whole six minute video. The only thing controversial about it is that it might not be welcome by some wealthy people. We live in a seriously screwed up country.

Shockingly, this video has only received 300 views thus far.

Update (20 May 2012 8:02 pm)

Now the video has over 400,000 views. It must be all the traffic I sent to it.

The Agony and Ecstasy of Mathilde

Scott Walker is a fine musician, with interesting ideas and a great voice. And yet, when I listen to this great Jacques Brel song, I can’t help but think of it as I do Pat Boone performing Blueberry Hill:

As opposed to Fats Domino.

Here is Jacques Brel, debuting the original song, Mathilde:

Can it be that Walker doesn’t understand the song? The agony and the ecstasy? It certainly seems that he doesn’t. There is no doubt that Brel understands it—probably far better than we do.

Conservative “Morality”

Robert ReichI’m very fond of Robert Reich, but I think he is fundamentally wrong in discussing how conservatives have public and private morality backwards. Yesterday, he noted that Mitt Romney thinks that banks—in particular, J. P. Morgan Chase—should be allowed to do whatever they want, because the market will figure it out. We all know how well that’s worked historically.

At the same time, Romney thinks that people’s private morality—whom to marry or when to have children—should be controlled by the government.

Reich writes:

This is a dangerous confusion. It should be a matter of personal choice whom to marry and when to have children. But it is undoubtedly a matter of public choice whether big banks should be allowed to take the kind of risky bets that plunged the economy into the worst downturn since the Great Depression, and whether people with great wealth should be able to buy our democracy with huge campaign contributions.

Reich is right about this from a policy standpoint. But I don’t think this is how the conservatives elites see it. Instead, they are looking for ways to remove all societal restrictions on what the wealthy can do. Taxes take away freedom from the rich. But abortion rights and even marriage laws do not affect them. They can buy their way around them. If a wealthy man wants to marry another man, he can set up the legal framework to have everything but the title “marriage.” And if he really wants the title, he can just live full time in another country. As for abortion? If a wealthy man wants his daughter to have an abortion, he’ll just fly her to Amsterdam.[1]

The morality of Romney and his peers is that of the aristocracy. The rich are rich because they are better than the rest of us. Therefore, there should be no limits on their behavior. And in general, there aren’t.[2]

[1] Note that this is largely what the Democratic Party has become since President Clinton. The people who fund the Democrats are socially liberal, but fiscally conservative. They still want to screw the poor. They believe in gay rights for rich people. A homeless gay man doesn’t think that his life is bad because he can’t marry another man. And so on among the various Democratic Party constituents.

[2] Here’s a nice video that goes along with Reich’s article: