People Still Do Doctor Faustus — I Wonder Why

Doctor FaustusThere is a new production of Doctor Faustus that just opened in New York at the 200-seat Classic Stage Company, starring “Mr Big” from Sex and the City, Chris Noth, as Faustus, and and veteran screen actor Zach Grenier as Mephistopheles. I have a great fondness for the play, but it still remains a mystery to me why anyone would want to produce it. A standard line about it is that the play has a beginning, a muddle, and an end. And you know that from the start: Faustus sells his soul for 26 years of Mephistopheles entertaining him. And at the end, he learns the valuable lesson that 26 years of playing pranks on the pope is really not compensation for an eternity of damnation.

That gets to the even bigger problem with the play. Faustus is not a likable character. He’s clearly an idiot. When Mephistopheles shows up as he is, Faustus requests that he change into a Franciscan friar. While it is clever of Christopher Marlowe to get a demon to walk the stage throughout the play as a religious figure, Faustus comes off as a small minded man of petty privilege. What’s more, he does not make his deal with the Devil out of any duress but rather boredom. He’s the most arrogant of characters — thoroughly disagreeable.

Faustus’ servant Wagner is far more engaging. In the context of the play, he too is wavering off the path of righteousness. But he does it only because he sees his master acting badly. But he is smart in a way that Faustus is never shown to be. Wagner manages to trick Robin into be his servant. And that is about the end of Wager’s acting on the dark side. His character all but fades away toward the end of the play.

Far more interesting is Mephistopheles because he seems truly to be a tragic character. Of course, we don’t see how he got to his damned place, but we see the results. In my various attempts to rework the play, I always find that even after his damnation, Faustus still doesn’t get it. He’s just a silly person. Mephistopheles, on the other had, exudes sadness and wisdom. And it is hard not to sympathize with him for the 26 years he must spend with Faustus who — despite all his academic credentials — has no noble aspirations or interests.

I’m sure the production will be like those of all Elizabethan plays: highly edited and finessed so as to make them better than they are on the page. There is, regardless, a lot of fine poetry on the page — much more than, “Is this the face that launched a thousand ships?” One nice thing about Marlowe’s writing is that, when well performed, you can hear the poetry. It can be very pleasing. I think there has been too much work done to make Shakespeare sound too naturalistic. Although his work was already well into the process of naturalism that continued up to the Restoration. So I hope the production embraces the poetry rather than obscuring it.

But I still don’t see much point in doing Doctor Faustus. Although it is a better choice than yet another one of Shakespeare’s plays.

DNC on Donald Trump 2016 Announcement

Donald TrumpWith Donald Trump’s announcement that he is running for president, DNC National Press Secretary Holly Shulman released the following statement:

“Today, Donald Trump became the second major Republican candidate to announce for president in two days. He adds some much-needed seriousness that has previously been lacking from the GOP field, and we look forward [to] hearing more about his ideas for the nation.”

—Democratic National Committee
DNC: Donald Trump “Adds Some Much-Needed Seriousness … Lacking From the GOP Field”

Crazy Republican Says Drought Due to Abortions

Shannon GroveCalifornia is going through it’s worst drought on record. Four years we have been suffering from a lack of water. There is basically no snow pack. The situation is dire and Governor Brown has done a number of things to address the situation like water rationing. But according to Republican State Assemblywoman Shannon Grove, we have the wrong approach. The drought is not due to a high pressure system sitting off the west coast pushing away winter storms. It is due to the fact that God is unhappy with us because we haven’t passed laws to make abortion illegal.

According to RH Reality Check, Grove was speaking at the California ProLife Legislative Banquet. And with a Bible in hand that she waved above her head, she said, “This is the infallible word of God!” The fact that people like this have political power is truly frightening. A lot of Americans are worried about the Islamic State. But it is over there. It isn’t in charge here. But people like Grove have a lot of power and they are no more rational. I don’t see how it would be hard to convince Grove that we ought to be stoning homosexuals, given that the Bible is “the infallible word of God!”

But then she got down to the subject of the California drought. “Texas was in a long period of drought until Governor Perry signed the fetal pain bill,” she said. “It rained that night. Now God has his hold on California.” In other words: if the state of California would just pass a law making abortions past 20 weeks illegal, our drought would be over. It’s amazing that NOAA hasn’t picked up on this simple solution. There’s no need for general circulation models; it’s all right there in the Bible. Except, of course, that it isn’t right there in the Bible. Like most modern American Christians, Shannon Grove decides on her own what the Bible means and then claims that that is the literal word of God. I call it hubris, and God looks down on that in the Bible.

What I think is fascinating about this is how it shows what the anti-choice movement really thinks of life. As soon as Perry signed that law, it rained. And then this year, well, the rain rain rain came down down down. And 46 people died in the flood this year. We don’t know how many people have died or will die as a result of our drought in California. But none of this matters, because people like Grove and her buddies in the anti-choice movement don’t care about humans after they are born.

Grove has also looked at California’s drought from a political perspective. Back in 2009, she was complaining about water used to support endangered fish. She said, “What civilized society destroys its own food source for a three-inch fish?” Of course, that’s not what she actually means. What she means is, “What civilized society puts the smallest pressure on corporate profits to protect an important ecosystem?” Of course, the issue isn’t the fish anyway; that’s just a nice way to blame our drought on those long-hairs. The point is that we can’t approach the drought in a rational way; the drought is an opportunity to demagogue in the name of business interests and fundamentalist Christianity.

Grove is, of course, not alone in her vile nuttery. World Watch Daily editor Bill Koenig has also blamed the drought on abortion and — What a surprise! — same-sex marriage. Columbia Christians for Life director Steve Lefamine had the nearly 2,000 deaths as a result of Hurricane Katrina all worked out, “God judged New Orleans for the sin of shedding innocent blood through abortion.” But somehow God never judges us for all the innocent people we kill in war. Consider this table from War Made Easy:

War Civilian Casualties
World War I 10%
World War II 50%
Vietnam 70%
Iraq 90%

But these have nothing to do with the California drought. That’s because, once again, these people don’t care about human life. That’s why I refuse to call them pro-life — although there are people like Elizabeth Stoker Bruenig who I think do quality for that name. But people like Shannon Grove are just demagogues who want to deprive people of rights in the name of pushing their pro-corporate and authoritarian policies. It’s disgraceful. Maybe God’s mad at them and that’s why California is having this drought. But most likely it’s just that stable high pressure system.

The Baseless Snowden Smear Continues

Edward SnowdenEverywhere in the media ecosystem over the weekend, we were seeing thoughtless repetitions of The Sunday Times article, British Spies Betrayed to Russians and Chinese. According to the article, “Russia and China have cracked the top-secret cache of files stolen by the fugitive US whistleblower Edward Snowden, forcing MI6 to pull agents out of live operations in hostile countries, according to senior officials in Downing Street, the Home Office and the security services.” There is just one problem: it isn’t true. It is just yet another round of the national security operations in the US and UK making yet another push to vilify Snowden — and by extension all whistleblowers.

The article does not contain any information except that anonymous sources claim that MI6 had to pull these officers. But we do have actual evidence that pushes against this. To begin with, Snowden has always claimed that he destroyed his files after turning them over to journalists while in Hong Kong. As Glenn Greenwald noted, “How, then, could Russia have obtained Snowden’s files as the story claims — ‘his documents were encrypted but they weren’t completely secure’ — if he did not even have physical possession of them?” What’s more, Ryan Gallagher reported, “I’ve reviewed the Snowden documents and I’ve never seen anything in there naming active MI6 agents.”

The article is also filled with what can only be claimed sloppy journalism. It repeats the claim that Snowden took 1.7 million documents. The NSA has never claimed this. All they’ve said is that in the course of his work over years as a contractor, he had accessed that many documents. Gallagher responded, “I’ve seen the trove of documents; the claim or insinuation that he leaked 1.7 million is not true.”

The bigger problem is that there is no evidence that any agents have actually been moved. This seems like just another excuse to complain about Snowden — especially after public opinion has started to shift in his direction after the recent passage of the USA Freedom Act. But it is certainly possible that MI6 agents had to be moved. But there is no reason to think that this has anything to do with an intelligence failure — much less that the intelligence failure was due to Snowden. Russia and China, of course, are always working on hacking into spying activities of other countries — including each other’s. Throwing China and Russia together as some kind of unitary force should have raised flags with the original reporters — and certainly with those who have pushed the story since.

What’s notable about this is that reporters give anonymous status to government officials pushing the official government line. This is not journalism. Providing anonymity to someone who would face retribution is a different matter. As Glenn Greenwald put it, “The official accusers are being hidden by the journalists so nobody can confront them or hold them accountable when it turns out to be false.” This is truly journalism as stenography. Instead of speaking truth to power, it is obscuring truth for power.

Morning Music: Carly Simon

The Many Adventures of Winnie the PoohIn a recent article (probably not published yet), I made reference to Winnie the Pooh. So I put The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh on and saw that there was a performance of “Winnie The Pooh” by Carly Simon. I’m not much of a fan of hers, but she’s certainly talented. And she put up with James Taylor during some very trying times, so I give her a lot of credit. But here is a pro tip for a successful marriage: don’t marry a junkie.

The song itself was written by the legendary Sherman Brothers. But Simon went on to write a number of songs for later Winnie the Pooh cartoons. But I’m not going to present those. Here is the original theme song, “Winnie the Pooh.” The guitar work is particularly nice.

Anniversary Post: Roller Coaster

Switchback Railway - SidewaysOn this day in 1884, the Switchback Railway opened at Coney Island. It was not a transport; it was the first roller coaster designed as a thrill ride. I guess we have to be careful, because certainly early train riders must have found the experience thrilling. But the Switchback was only intended to be thrilling — it didn’t take anyone anywhere. Well, not exactly. It was not like the new rides where you end up back where you started. Instead, you climbed up to a tower, got in and it took you to a a secondary 600 feet away. One difference from modern roller coasters: people were seated sideways; the cars were more or less park benches on rollers.

The cost of the ride was a nickle — roughly $1.25 today. And for that, you got the thrill of traveling at a speed slightly over — I am not making this up — six miles per hour! That’s right: the Switchback Railway peaked out at the speed that is less than the average speed that an amateur marathon runner averages over 26 miles. Still, I’m sure it was way cool. And more suitable to me than many of the monster roller coasters around today.

Switchback Railway

Happy anniversary roller coaster!