Thursday, December 27, 2012


In my view, technology — particularly as it applies to “progress" — has waged war for almost a hundred years on how we think, how we understand, how we learn, and in the biggest picture, our ability to comprehend and converse on the linear plane. But it’s nothing new.

The first radio broadcast happened on Aug. 31, 1920. And with that new medium, live entertainment went from being restricted to theater stages to an entity that could be performed in network studios and transmitted to vast numbers of listeners during the broadcast. I say listeners, but in truth, consumer is the better word. Radio was a big moment, much bigger in my view than the first silent films, which had been around since the turn of the 20th century.

The first “talkie” — THE JAZZ SINGER — came along in 1927, and again, all forms of live entertainment, even radio, had a new kid on the block with which to contend.

It’s not a coincidence that the 1930s gave American culture its golden age in the realm of literature and art, as well as the embryonic stages of the newest and most accessible creative form — the motion picture. But the process to make a film hinged on the well-established arena of the novel. First, someone wrote a story; then someone else wrote that same story for the screen, and sometimes, both stories resembled each other. Often not, however.

My belief is that the better films were always made from the novels that were written as novels, without the author thinking ahead as to how the story in print would translate to the action on the screen.

Meanwhile, countless motion pictures were being made using well-known classic plots, and Shakespeare was no exception. Silent Shakespeare films, for instance, are beyond illogical, and yet, eerily compelling. It’s like taking the Cliff Notes version and then tweeting the action.

The novel, the classic play, and the occasional original idea could live in harmony as they waited in movie green light limbo in the 1940s. Meanwhile, radio provided entertainment of shorter duration with a broader appeal. Imagine the oft-repeated scene of the family gathered around the radio to listen to the next episode of GUNSMOKE or THE JACK BENNY PROGRAM — foreshadowing now when families gather to watch, for instance, HOMELAND or BREAKING BAD.

The film and radio industries, hampered but never extinguished “live” entertainment on stage — an art form that has survived virtually every technological assault since the 16th century. Can’t say the same for lute players or ventriloquists.
TV, however, changed many things. Although invented in the late 1920s, it wasn’t until 1948 that the first network television began in the United States. And radio — particularly in terms of dramatic presentations — became the most obvious victim of TV. And with radio came another casualty: the average reading level.

Each technological “advance” helped diminish reading as the first choice in the manner in which to obtain one of our basic needs — the story. We need stories perhaps as much as we need our dreams; in fact, they are often the same. But our subconscious doesn’t really care how or from where we “get” the story, just that we get it. TV was far easier than reading, and quicker, and even better, new.

But the biggest game changer of all — ever — in the realm of focus has been the internet.

Long before the internet, the average reading level had dipped each year since TV came along, but when the web arrived, linear thinking changed forever. It wasn't long, for instance, before GPS and Smart Phones grabbed civilization by its collective thumb. Amazing how powerful technology has become. Sure, it's fast and efficient. We can video conference someone in Fiji as if they were next door. Instant Karma, indeed. And that's all terrific.

But in the midst of the "ease" of technology, plenty of traps lurk like highwaymen waiting their moment, and in my opinion, the most sinister of those gambits involves attention span. When people are used to interacting with a maximum of 140 characters — by necessity a new acronymic language evolves. Nothing at all "wrong" with that, but eventually, haiku communicating takes its toll. 

Reading actual sentences, for example, becomes a task. Reading an entire magazine article turns into an uphill Everest undertaking, while actually sitting still to read a book — with the understanding that it will be a process of some undertaking — seems as possible and as likely as a cow jumping over the moon.

And yet, words continue and will always continue. As does our shared need to listen and to actually hear how those words, used by masters, shape our view of reality, and just as importantly, ourselves.
Live theatre is more than a performance; it’s a tribute to resilience. You can’t tweet JULIUS CAESAR any more effectively than you can watch LAWRENCE OF ARABIA on an iPhone.

Sure, you can do that, but like homemade bread, it’s better to go old school.

Thursday, November 29, 2012

Fair, with heart

The Republicans act as if a 3 percent increase for the vastly wealthy will ruin the economy. But we know that is merely the talking point.

They are protecting the big donors, and by big, I mean at the level of Sheldon Addleson or those true American patriots, David and Charles Koch. We also know where Grover Norquist gets his funding, and reasonable people must be left with the reality that these

 people are willing to hold the entire economy hostage to get their way. John Boehner, for instance, is going all in on this.

Obviously, the only way compromise will happen will be IF some of the more moderate House Republicans risk their political futures for the sake of the country. That's a lot to ask, particularly as elected officials — on both sides of the aisle — constantly prove that they are more about self-service, than public service.

One of the key elements of the debate on raising taxes which sometimes get dusted off the floor too soon is simply this:

How much does $2,000 mean to a middle class family, as opposed to the 3 percent increase for the vastly rich? What is the actual percentage of spendable income that is involved?

Finally, trickle down does not work, and yet, the Republicans keep insisting that the slight increase to the upper 2 percent will do horrid things to the economy. In truth, we know that if those taxes aren't raised, horrid things will CONTINUE to happen in regard to revenue not raised. Yes, we need to curb spending but starting with medicare and social security is as vapid as it is heartless.

Fair is all that reasonable people are asking. It's past time for Republicans to reclaim their party from the extremists such as Norquist and the Tea Partiers, and actually do the right thing.

Wouldn't that be inspiring?

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Monday, November 26, 2012

Many Thanks

My wife and I visited Staunton, Va., last summer to attend a performance of the American Shakespeare Center's production of THE MERCHANT OF VENICE. We felt at home in the quaint, surprisingly vibrant centerpiece in the Shenandoah Valley and enjoyed our experience at the theater so much we decided to return for Thanksgiving weekend.

During that first visit to Staunton, we learned that Frederick Ho

use serves as one of the American Shakespeare Center sponsors. We figured anyone who cared enough about a theater company to help ensure its longevity would — most likely — run an "inn" with aplomb. Happily, but not surprisingly, that's what we encountered during our stay at the impressive 25-room, multi-location bed and breakfast owned and run by Joe and Evy Harman.

We chose to arrive on Thanksgiving day, and I'd called earlier in the week and was told it would be fine to check in early. We arrived in Staunton at 12:45 p.m. and had our first meeting with the Harmans, who are gracious, witty, extremely articulate, and, as we soon discovered, quite kind.

Joe noticed that I limp because of bad knees and upgraded our room to a first floor suite at Patrick House. It's difficult to express just how much pleasure my wife and I felt when we strolled into that wondrous first floor space with hardwood flooring, high ceiling, tons of perfect light, and a four-poster king bed that provided a sublime sleeping experience.

We actually booked that very same room for NEXT Thanksgiving within 15 minutes of our arrival, but we're already looking ahead to returning earlier to Staunton and Frederick House— in addition to our Thanksgiving trip — to take advantage of the many enticing diversions that Staunton has to offer.

The American Shakespeare Center is reason enough to visit, but if theater is not your cup of mocha, allow me to suggest touring the region, visiting the wide range of art galleries, or simply putting the food bag on.

There are numerous dining options in Staunton. We chose Aioli (Saturday) and Zynodoa (Friday), and the Thanksgiving buffet at the Stonewall Jackson Hotel. I recommend all three. How does a Mediterranean Paella sound? Or a spicy gumbo with a twist? Or perhaps a mountain of jumbo shrimp surrounded by smoked salmon? Yes, we enjoyed our dinners.

Breakfast at Frederick House, however, proved to be our favorite food experience. Everything that Evy Harmon serves, Evy Harman has made. It's up to the guest to decide how healthy a breakfast he/she wants. From oatmeal to multigrain waffles, carnivores and vegetarians will have access to a powerful combination of high quality ingredients, flavor, and wise dining options. Fresh juice and coffee to start, and then, a guest is on his own. Do you have the quiche? Cold cereal? Granola? Or perhaps a sausage and egg combo? I recommend the waffle. Outstanding.

So there you have it — some thought for food, as well as food for thought.

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Breathing Blue (in a red state)

I live in Wake County in North Carolina, which went 55 percent for Obama. Sadly, my state did not match its 2008 dramatic break from the rest of the "obstinate south."

I am pleased, however, that NC did not "automatically" come up red as did the usual prime suspects. Georgia, South Carolina, Mississippi, Alabama, Oklahoma, Montana, Wyoming, and Texas come to mind.

Thrilled that Colorado and Virginia chose reality over spin. Both states are too "beautiful" to paint themselves red. Even more thrilled that voter suppression tactics failed in Florida and Ohio. Proud that so many stood so long to make their vote count. Of all the malarkey that taints our election process, the partisan manner in which our country stages elections looms at the top of my LET'S FIX THIS SHIT list.

Second on the Fix List is Citizens United, and the role vast sums of money tried to play. Karl Rove, for instance, can screw himself as he learns (again) that you can't purchase happiness. Karl Can't Get No ... Satisfaction.

Thrilled that the war against women, as well as the war against truth, spun off the tracks. Hats off to Claire McCaskill and Joe Donnelly, who deprived self-appointed rape experts and obvious lunatics Todd Akin and Richard E. Mourdock a chance to spread their venom.

Thrilled that an intelligent, vibrant activist — Elizabeth Warren — will get her chance to make a difference in DC. Smart is always good, and Warren is plenty smart.

Thrilled that Tammie Baldwin defeated hypocrite Tommy Thompson, and equally thrilled that she will be the first openly gay candidate elected to the US Senate. Talk about leaning forward.

Thrilled that marriage equality laws passed in Maryland & Maine.

Meanwhile, the Woodstock Child that lurks in my heart and brain is grinning that pot is "okay" in the states of Colorado and Washington. John Prine can alter his lyrics when visiting those regions. "Ah, but fortunately, I can buy the key ... legally."

Thrilled that Alan Grayson is returning to the House.

Thrilled for all the down ballot state and local victories that will — hopefully — force the tea party to find a new beverage. I suggest hemlock.

Thrilled for Bernie Sanders.

Thrilled that Obama will — most likely — have an opportunity to put folks on the Supreme Court who have left eyeballs and know how to use them. I'm talking to you Clarence Thomas and Antonin Scalia. Isn't it time to relax and enjoy the good life. You've had your run. Now, get the heck out of the way.

A great night. 

Obviously, I wish North Carolina as a state had better sense. Same holds true for Minnesota, which elected Michelle Bachmann. Again.

I have empathy for all of those living in regions who are outnumbered by their "friends" across the aisle.


But overall this morning, you might say that I'm fired up. And yes, I'm ready to go.

The task ahead is daunting. But the country dodged a big one last night. And what should make most reasonable people smile — we won't have to find out how big.


Breathing Blue (in a red state).

Sunday, November 4, 2012

The 100 Percent

In regard to the extreme commercials Obama and Romney have used, there's a stark contrast to Romney's Jeep Ad and Obama's use of Romesia — it reveals the difference between a negative ad that is based on lies, and a negative ad that points out a critical truth.

Despite all of the bluster and dissembling from both sides,  several critical issues lurk in the balance with this election.

1. The economy. I understand the passion of those who fault Obama for the sluggish economy, just as I understand their weariness at the mention of the mess that led to the crash. Perhaps we can agree it was a bad situation that Obama did not make worse. Of course it could be better. Obama has admitted that, and in my opinion, it is not strictly Obama's fault that it is not better.

2. Women's rights, including abortion, contraception, and equal pay. I see some have discounted the Lilly Ledbetter act, but I happen to think that legislation is a big issue, and not just for women, but for households, where there's only one person working, and that worker is female. Equal pay should have happened in the last century, imo.

3. Foreign policy. Personally, I'm not in favor of drones, and both candidates have endorsed the use of that weapon. I wish Gitmo were closed, and I'm pleased we got Bin Laden.

4. Character. This actually evolved into an issue late in the campaign because one of the candidates veered sharply away from previous extreme positions. I've seen the word pivot used, as well as changing one's mind, and, of course, the old favorite, flipping and flopping. It's perfectly reasonable to change one's mind; sheite happens. But when one candidate seems to flip back and forth from positions, that's when doubt comes in as to what the heck he really is up to. In my humble view, it takes a strong amount of faith that the Mitt you want or expect is the Mitt you will get.

We are going to believe one candidate or the other. I wonder if we can agree that this election is particularly volatile because of so much uncertainty, mostly that either Obama or Romney is not going to have an easy time if the GOP retains the House, and the Democrats keep control of the Senate.

Our bigger problem is not who we elect president, but how we manage to reinvent the art of compromise. Some might say, for certain Mitt will boast, that as Governor, Romney had 87 percent Democrats, and that he worked across the aisle. His record tells us that he vetoed more than 800 bills, and 780 of those bills were eventually passed via override. Obama, as has been pointed out many times, has not been too successful working with John Boehner, Eric Cantor, and the rest of that adamant bunch. And Harry Reid has promised Romney that if the Dems keep control the Senate, they will not work with him if he is elected.  We — the people — are screwed either way.

This is where the system is gouging us. The last two Congresses have passed the least amount of legislation in the history of the country. That's disgraceful. It's easy to see why many people are cynical about the process.

We can be passionate about one candidate or the other, but until we — the people that do the hiring and firing of these alleged public servants — demand more of our elected officials, rather than feeling smug that our side — whichever one we're on — won a political campaign.

In my view with what has transpired in the past 12 years and the growing rancor and discord that dominates our discussion and how congress operates, the country has lost the last three presidential elections. We — the 100 percent — need that to change.

Saturday, October 20, 2012

Who are you?

I see that, after his second debate disaster at Hofstra, the emergence of Binders Full of Women, and then Friday’s amusing diagnosis of Romnesia, Multiple Choice Mitt strikes back, accusing the Obama campaign of having become "petty" — that Obama keeps "talking about smaller and smaller things."

Mitt is desperate to deflect the focus on his cretin, 1950s stance on women's issues, particularly their right to choose how to handle their own bodies, as well as equal pay for equal work. Perhaps women's rights are "petty" to Romney, and that would certainly not be surprising.

Romnesia, of course, is satire, but as with all good satire, it is fueled by truth. It's a clever expression that defines Mitt's serial mendacity. I suppose it is "petty" not to have a solid stance on any issue, other than Romney wants to win the election. Romnesia suggests that Romney will say anything to get elected. He already has. He's the definitive 180-degree candidate — like weather in the tropics, his positions are always changing.

Mitt could actually debate himself Monday night. So, which one is he really? Moderate Mitt? Tea Party Mitt?