30 September 2011

NJ Gov. Christie Has Not Ruled Out Sweaty, Red-Faced, Short-of-Breath Run for Presidency

TRENTON -- In a speech this week at the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library in California, New Jersey Governor Chris Christie’s appearance fueled hopes among some voters and party officials that the Republican may make be reconsidering his decision to make a sweaty, red-faced, short-of-breath run for the White House.

So far, Christie has denied, often humorously, that he might make a wheezing, laborious entry into the race for the Republican nomination. But sources close to the Governor say he is reconsidering, and has not yet categorically ruled out a ponderous, tsunami-triggering belly-flop jump into the campaign.

“For those many Republicans dissatisfied with the current roster of candidates, Chris Christie is intriguing,” political analyst Jenny Craig said. “The humongous, sagging bulk of his positions are far to the left of the other candidates at this moment, while early polling indicates that he could easily crush his opponents in Iowa and New Hampshire, and indeed just about anywhere else in 2012.”

A Christie associate has told The New York Times that the Governor has made preliminary phone calls to donors, party operatives, and takeout restaurants. While Christie has said that he would require a tremendous amount of heavy-duty, extra-reinforced support, the response so far may have prompted Christie to reevaluate tossing his sweat-stained hat into the ring.

“The recurring question is, ‘How can I get in on the ground floor of this campaign?’” the associate told the Times. “The answer is, there is no ground floor yet.”

As a result, say observers, Christie would be compelled to take the elevator.

“Stairs are out of the question,” former NJ Governor Thomas Kean said.

Read more!

25 September 2011

Science World in Shock after Claims That Light Has Been Broken

CERN physicists at last week’s press conference.
From left to right: Rolf-Dieter Heuer, Thomas Edward Witten, Stephen Wolfram, Klaus von Luge, and Angelina Jolie.

GENEVA -- The scientific community was left in shock when workers at the world’s largest physics lab announced they had broken the light, a spokesperson for the European Organization for Nuclear Research [CERN], near Geneva, announced this week, immediately casting doubt and considerable shadows on the theories developed by 20th-century physicist Albert Einstein.

Specifically, Einstein’s theory of special relativity, proposed in 1905, cannot be read the same way, CERN director Rolf-Dieter Heuer said, because it is now too dark to read anything. However, experts warned, these findings cannot be confirmed because scientists at the CERN lab can’t find the findings, or anything else, given current conditions.

“We believe that the light was broken by neutrinos [electrically neutral, weakly interacting elementary subatomic particles],” Rolf-Dieter Heuer said. Heuer dismissed the possibility that the light was struck by a hockey stick improperly carried in a duffel bag belonging to a visiting scientist, Dr. Klaus von Luge of the Institute for Advanced Study, upon his arrival at the CERN lab last week.

“Bad, naughty, wicked neutrinos!” von Luge interjected.

“We were amazed by the speed with which the light was broken,” Heuer told reporters.

“We encourage our colleagues in the United States and Japan to run their own tests to confirm our data,” Heuer declared. “Do they obtain the same results when they break the lights in their laboratories? Or were our results a fluke, or perhaps a misreading of the data, due to the lack of adequate lighting? And will someone please explain to us where Moses is, now that the light is broken?”

Einstein’s theory of relativity had a profound impact not only in science but also in philosophy, politics, and the arts, especially when the theory was read in a clear, bright light, to avoid eyestrain. Although widely known in shorthand as “E = mc2” (energy equals mass times the speed of light squared), the theory is not completely understood by anyone who has been unable to read it.

Reaction in the scientific community was swift. “It is premature to comment on this. Further experiments and clarification are needed,” Stephen Hawking told another reporter for a different publication, talking about something else.

Stephen Hawking: Extremely bright.

But Johann Gambolputti, Director of Princeton University’s Laboratory of SPOVSTTAELPLCPTJLPE Research,* argued that, in independent tests run concurrently at his laboratory, he had lost the key to the front door and could not find it in the dark.

“The solution is currently beyond the reach of modern scientists,” Gambolputti said. “Indeed, this mystery may remain locked for several generations, or until the sun comes up in the morning, which ever comes first. Please bring me a sweater.”

Einstein himself would not have been able to find the key to the front door — where the broken light is located — according to one biographer, journalist Walter Isaacson. “I’m just speculating here,” Isaacson said, “but I believe that, had he lived, Einstein would be sitting in the dark right now, waiting for someone from security, or perhaps a janitor, to open the door and replace the broken light. Even a scientist of his genius would be unable to solve this on his own.”

While the potential implications of the new development are far-reaching, CERN’s Dr. Heuer urged scientists everywhere to engage in further study before flinging their physics textbooks out the window, and physics students are cautioned not to give up the major in favor of anything like the liberal arts, which include Italian Renaissance Poetry and Power Volleyball.

“These major subjects may increase the likelihood of your meeting girls, but they are otherwise extremely unrewarding,” averred Susan Hockfield, president of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology; “stick with Physics.”

Einstein: Unable to enlighten us.

* Subatomic Particles and Other Very Small Things That Are Easily Lost in the Pockets of Lab Coats or Perhaps Tweed Jackets with Leather Patches at the Elbows.

Read more!

24 September 2011

Let There Be Opera!

Nico Muhly

“Friends and family” (as the composer described us in a pre-curtain speech) got a preview of Nico Muhly’s new opera, Dark Sisters, in New York last night, and I’m delighted. It’s not my business to critique the performance or the score — and I wouldn’t have done so even had Muhly not pleaded with us “snarky bloggers” to restrain ourselves. What strikes me as most urgent, at the moment, is the need to celebrate the evening’s event.

Any way you look at it, it’s exciting. An entirely new opera is being performed. A gifted young composer gets to test-run his new work before a savvy, benevolent audience.* A young company, Gotham Chamber Opera, celebrates its tenth anniversary by commissioning a new score (in partnership with Opera Company of Philadelphia and the Music-Theatre Group). A terrific cast of singers gets the opportunity to perform. And yet again, art is created.

Artwork designed to promote the Gotham Chamber Opera world premiere of Dark Sisters

Indeed, the fact that this was a preview — and not an opening night — was something to celebrate. So often, world premieres are baptisms by fire. The composer and librettist don’t get the opportunity that they’d get in any other kind of theater to test their work before audiences prior to the Judgment Day that is opening night.

The stakes for new opera are so incredibly high, not least because so few are produced. We don’t live in 19th-century Italy, when composers could learn the craft, study audiences’ tastes, and benefit from trial and error — then move on to the next project. You might write a dozen operas before you had a single hit, you might never have a hit, but you’d keep plugging away, recycling material that worked and discarding anything that didn’t. (Or anyway, that was the ideal.)

Nowadays, everything rides on opening night. The critics (and the snarky bloggers) are out in force. You’re seeing the piece for the first time, too. Maybe you’d like to change something — but it’s too late now, and who knows whether you’ll ever have the opportunity?

This is not a review, just a statement of fact: Soprano Caitlin Lynch was superlative last night in the central role of Eliza.
The other singers are wonderful, too: Eve Gigliotti, Jennifer Check, Margaret Lattimore, Jennifer Zetlan, Kristina Bachrach, and the reliably redoubtable Kevin Burdette.

Nico Muhly, who is younger than some socks I own, isn’t Giuseppe Verdi — or Kurt Weill. He doesn’t have the luxury of apprenticeship or a season in the minor leagues: he’s already a star. But that doesn’t mean that his opera must spring from his brow fully formed and ready to face the world. Neal Goren and his partners have given Dark Sisters time to mature in an environment that is (I presume) nurturing and safe.

Even if Muhly’s score was note-perfect from the start, it didn’t have to be. He was given the possibility to tinker with it, to refine it, to bring it ever closer to what pleased him and closer to what will please the audience. That’s good for Muhly, and it’s good for the people who’ll hear the premiere in November, as well as subsequent performances in Philadelphia, and — with luck — far beyond, for years to come.

The creative team: Muhly, stage director Rebecca Taichman, librettist Stephen Karam, and Neal Goren (in his conductor’s hat).

It’s good for opera overall, too. The art form can’t truly thrive unless it continues to grow. That means developing new material, both in interpretation of older works and in the creation of new works. We need new blood.

Watching Neal Goren conduct last night, knowing how much the project means to him and to Gotham (the company he founded), and sitting next to Darren Keith Woods of Fort Worth Opera (who’s produced a few world premieres himself), I began to entertain the mental image of the impresario as Creator, with a capital C.

For he looks out upon the void and says, “Let there be opera!” And there is opera. And I see it, and it is good.

(I’m sorry if that sounds snarky, Nico, but I just gotta say what I feel.)

Dark Sisters
Gotham Chamber Opera,
at the Gerald W. Lynch Theater, New York.

November 11, 12, 15, 17, 19
Online ticketing via Ticket Central
Phone: 212-279-4200

Opera Philadelphia
at the Perelman Theater

June 8, 10 (matinée), 13.
Kimmel Center Box Office open daily, 10am – 6pm.
Phone: 215-893-1999

*NOTE: That audience included the actor Alan Rickman. A movie star! In person! How exciting! For a while, we felt like the coolest kids in school — and that doesn’t often happen to opera fans.

“By Grabthar’s hammer... by the Sons of Warvan... you shall be... avenged.”

Read more!

22 September 2011

Facebook Unveils New Features

A sample of the “Your Lovers” page layout:
Now you and everyone you ever met will know what became of that girl you slept with and threw over for somebody else, as well as what she says about you right now.

Facebook, the popular social-networking website, is set to unveil “Dateline,” a new kind of Profile page that will automatically reveal what your former dates have been saying about you lately. Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg, whose date to the junior prom calls him “totally lame” and is currently living in a cardboard box, is expected to announce the new layout and features at a press conference later today.

“In today’s interconnected world,” Zuckerberg told reporters, “it’s no longer enough to be connected to the people you’re connected to. You need to connect all of those people to everyone you ever connected with, even if it was for only one night, or just a few minutes. And now I have the power to make that happen. Bwah ha ha ha ha.”

Starting soon, whenever friends visit your Facebook page, they will see “Your Lovers,” a wide, open space with unique images of anyone you ever slept with, including the ones you can’t remember and the ones you’d rather forget.

Privacy, what’s that? Zuckerberg, pictured, has told reporters
he doesn’t care who knows how many hundreds of women
he has satisfied with his prehensile tongue and 14-inch penis.

Don’t have a picture of that girl you picked up in the bar in Tucson in 1997? No problem. “You don’t need to post these pictures yourself,” Zuckerberg said. “In fact, you can’t — and you can’t take ’em down, either. We do it all for you, whether you want us to or not. We have everything we need — we’ve been monitoring you for a long time.”

As part of the “Your Lovers” feature, Facebook will randomly post surveillance-camera video of your bedroom.

The next new feature is “Your Sizes,” which meticulously reports every fluctuation in your weight for the past 30 years, as well as your bra and/or penis measurements, and what your friends are saying about them.

Designs have not yet been finalized for the “My Sizes” feature, but Zuckerberg says he expects this kind of image will be insufficiently precise for Facebook’s needs.

Scrolling down, visitors, including your mother, will be able to see “Your Craps,” detailed reports on every crap you’ve ever taken, with a chemical analysis linking to the restaurants you like best. “I find that merchants and restaurateurs nationwide have been extremely enthusiastic about this feature,” Zuckerberg said, “once they got over the initial nausea and revulsion.

“It’s an excellent way to track dining trends, make customers aware of special promotions, and determine whether there is in fact using too much cauliflower in the stew,” Zuckerberg concluded.

The final new feature of every one of Facebook’s 750 million users’ dedicated pages (or “Walls,” in Facebook parlance) is “Your Confession,” an interactive feature in which an actor portraying a Catholic priest reveals to visitors everything you’ve ever said in private to anyone, ever.

During the upcoming press conference, Zuckerberg is also expected to reveal that he is Satan.

Read more!

21 September 2011

‘Glee’-nalysis: ADH ‘Glee’ Disorder

Not pepperoni.

Glee has returned for a third season, and on the strength (a word I use dubiously) of its premiere, I fear that my erstwhile optimism for the show will not survive for long. As you may recall, the concluding episodes of last season led me to believe that Glee’s writers had at last figured out what made the show so special. But very little of that specialness was in evidence last night.

I’m not talking about implausibility. Is it reasonable to think that New Directions would somehow be less popular at school, just because they lost the competition in New York? Would Mr. Shuester really think that purple pianos were a likely way to recruit new members? Would Rachel (Lea Michele) tearfully accept that Juilliard has no musical-theater program instead of shouting, “Who cares? Patti LuPone went there, bee-yotch!” And finally — a food fight? Really? No, no, no, and no — but these are the sorts of lapses in credibility that Glee delivers all the time, and we’re used to them.

Can’t stop the beat, at least until graduation.

Part of the trouble was a kind of attention-deficit-hyperactivity disorder, as the episode skipped all over the map, trying to cover as much territory as possible in the shortest amount of time. Since the specter of graduation has loomed large in fans’ minds all summer, we quickly dealt with the question of who and who is not a senior. Prepare to say goodbye to Rachel, Kurt, Finn, Quinn, Santana, and … Mike Chang?

My guess is that we’re paving the way for Mike Chang’s departure, in order to build tension: will Tina and Artie get back together? This was a set-up — like a great deal else in this episode.

Quick-change artist: A Warbler no more.

Meanwhile, Blaine’s decision to transfer to McKinley High flew by. In the real world, his parents would say, “Boys, boys, I know you want to be together, but you’re 17.” Or else they might say, “Great, Blaine, public school is a great idea, because there’s a depression on, and we don’t want to pay Dalton tuition anymore.” Indeed, there’s all sorts of drama and interest that might arise out of such an important decision — but we’ll never know, because the show treated the transfer as lightly as the exchange of Blaine’s Warbler jacket for street clothes. (Provided that street is in Greenwich Village in 1987.)

Why couldn’t Glee stretch out Blaine’s decision for at least a couple of episodes? Because the show needs him at McKinley — and because legions of screaming Darren Criss fans will not be denied.

It’s not unusual … but it’s profitable.

The show tried to pick up loose ends left dangling last spring. Mercedes (Amber Riley) has a new boyfriend, but — surprise — it’s not Trouty Sam (Chord Overstreet, whose abs are pursuing other projects now).** The creators all but stepped in front of the camera to promise that Mercedes would have more to do this season: I’ll believe it when I see it. (But I’ll be grateful when I do.)

But the hyperactivity was evident in other ways, too. Look at the camerawork and editing of the “We Got the Beat” number in the cafeteria. The choreography featured the show’s best dancers: Heather Morris (Brittany), Harry Shum, Jr. (Mike Chang), and Naya Rivera (Santana). But just try keeping an eye on them. The whole number was chopped into a hash. You couldn’t see what anybody was doing.

Granted, it’s been years since we left behind the Fred Astaire philosophy: his dance numbers had to be shot so that his full body could be seen, the taps had to be natural sound (not dubbed later), audiences had to be given an authentic understanding of the choreography. And granted, too, I may be an old fogey. But I couldn’t tell what was going on.*

A certain amount of jumping around may be expected, but the greatest disappointment for this viewer was how little the writers seem to have learned over the years — and how little they seem to have contemplated over the summer. So many of the plot points being set up were tired retreads of old paths, or made limited sense, or both.

Yeah, right. Skanky Quinn.
That’s her ironic tattoo of Ryan Seacrest in the inset.

So Mr. Shue has yet again gotten involved with a neurotic woman and isn’t getting laid. We did this in Season 1, and even though the woman now is Emma Pillsbury (Jayma Mays, whom I cherish), I was bored.

So Quinn has decided to be a bad girl — a “Skank” — even though we have already met her parents and we know there is no way on earth they would let her leave the house looking like that. I don’t mind letting Quinn be a vehicle for the psychological reality that high-school kids try on and trade identities like clothes at the mall, and Dianna Agron looked lovely in her skanky drag. But Dianna Agron would look lovely in a gorilla suit, and this plot line makes no sense.

So Santana is yet again a double agent, sabotaging New Directions for the Cheerios. In this case, the producers seemed so fearful that we’d remember she did this in Season 1, they set up the plot and resolved it in a matter of seconds. Which is a pity, because Santana has changed a lot since Season 1, and it might have been interesting to see her conflicted loyalties and fear of exposure over an extended period.

That said, Santana may yet demand vengeance.

Worst of all was Sue Sylvester’s entry into politics. This plot development was hinted at last season, and I welcomed it. Unfortunately, Glee is treating it the way they’ve treated everything to do with Sue lately: as unrealistically as possible.

Thus Sue is able to keep her job as a local-TV commentator. In reality, she’d have to quit or take time off during the campaign — that’s the law — but the script required her to seize a TV platform to launch her anti-art campaign, and the writers didn’t realize that she could have done this in a live studio interview in the TV studio.

Sue doesn’t have a campaign manager. She has Becky Jackson (Lauren Potter), which would make me less uneasy if we hadn’t seen last season’s Christmas episode, in which Sue played the Grinch and Becky played the dog: henceforward, there will come a point at which Becky’s cheery devotion looks like unseemly subservience to lurid exploitation, and despite one good line (“Oh, Becky, your twisted genius excites me”), we passed that point last night.

Worst of worst of all — Sue’s political campaign turns out not to be a new direction but yet another attempt to undermine New Directions.

We’ve been there, done that. And as a result, I can predict Sue’s Season 3 character development for you right now. She will continue to behave like a cartoon villain until April, when she has a miraculous epiphany, possibly tied to the death of someone close to her, and decides to reconcile yet again with Will Shuester. Exactly the way she did in Season 1. Exactly the way she did in Season 2.

Becky Jackson, your days are numbered.

The lack of imagination demonstrated in the Sue plot — the failure to recognize (or ability to resist) the comic possibilities of treating her political campaign with seriousness and greater realism (because how could you outdo the real-life politicians in America now?) — is perhaps the most discouraging development in this show since Terri Shuester faked her pregnancy. The people who make this show simply don’t understand how terrific it could be.

Nevertheless, we got a little glimpse of terrific last night. It came after a dispiriting “Ding! Dong! The Witch Is Dead!” from Rachel and Kurt, with which they intended to wow some musical-theater kids from other local schools. Despite the fact that the number was mediocre, the audience was obliged to watch the whole thing play out. My mind wandered. Do the producers think this number is good? I asked. Am I supposed to think it’s good? Why is Lea Michele singing like that? And where did Kurt get those boots?

That number turned out to be a set-up. When we finally met those other kids, they performed a mash-up of “Anything Goes” and “Anything You Can Do (I Can Do Better)” that was actually quite good, featuring a contestant from this summer’s Glee Project. More important were the reactions of Rachel and Kurt during the number,*** and their interplay in the scene that followed.

Alternate universe: Rachel and Kurt get their comeuppance.

As I’ve said, this relationship has developed plausibly and gratifyingly over time: it’s what really would happen, but it wasn’t forced on us by the writers (even if it was really just an attempt to salvage audience sympathy for Rachel), and we derive satisfaction from watching it come to fruition. We get mini-payoffs every time the characters are allowed to interact in new situations.

And the scene worked because it was given time and focus to work — it surmounted the show’s ADHD — something you can’t say about anything else that happened in last night’s episode.

If indeed Rachel and Kurt graduate to a new show about their adventures in New York, I’m certain to watch. I wish I were still so optimistic about Glee.

*NOTE: The choreography in the “Anything Goes”/”Anything You Can Do” mash-up was more respectfully handled, which at least demonstrates that the people who produce this show know how to do it right — even if they don’t necessarily choose to. Could the superior handling of this number have something to do with the fact that it was performed by guest stars, who had less to rehearse in the episode and therefore may have had more opportunity to master the moves?

** At least Lauren Zizes (Ashley Fink) got to make her exit on camera, a courtesy not extended to Sam (or to Chord Overstreet, for that matter). Hey, it’s an extra paycheck, even if it’s not co-star salary.

***With her contrasting, perfectly calibrated reaction shots to Sugar Motta’s “Big Spender” (both before and after) and to the “Anything” number, Lea Michele proved again that she’s a terrific comic actress.

Read more!

How to Rescue the United States Postal Service

In the heat of the overwhelmingly gratifying public response to my proposal to solve the problem of America’s uninsured, I am ready now to turn to some of the other great challenges that face us as a nation in our time. First up: the ailing United States Postal Service.

The problem here is not really that Americans no longer use the mail to communicate with each other, or that almost every other form of communication is faster, more reliable, and often cheaper: FedEx, e-mail, Skype, messages in a bottle cast into the ocean. All of these are superior to the “services” provided by the U.S.P.S., although admittedly, the other guys don’t sell cute little stamps.

The real problem, however, is that the Post Office is boring. It’s badly decorated. It’s full of long lines of customers who fritter away their lives while they wait for assistance from counter staff who are equally bored, much more surly, and dubiously qualified to carry out their duties. In short, it’s just like a fast-food restaurant.

“But Americans like fast-food restaurants,” you say: “Why aren’t we flocking to the Post Office for more of the same soulless, unhealthy atmosphere?”

Well, you’re getting close to the solution.

Starting right now, the United States government could generate substantial income by renting its 31,000 post offices and reselling its supplies to a business that puts expansion above every other consideration — ahead of anything else on earth, really. Namely, Starbucks.

This would mean a few changes, right from the very first day. The popular expression “Going postal” would now come to mean “Ow, my stomach hurts from drinking all that coffee.”

The “Venti”-size cup would henceforward be known as the “Cinquanta-due,” though it would contain the same amount of coffee. (But with a “Forever” cup, you get two free re-fills!)

All of those overpriced, minuscule Starbucks baked goods and sandwiches would be wrapped in unused Express Mail envelopes — which is actually no big deal, since they’re made of the same ingredients.

Starbucks gets a lot out of the deal, since after all there are only so many strip malls in America, and it’s time to look for new locations. Also, since not even Starbucks can be everywhere at once, the company can now entertain the possibilities of re-purposing old mail trucks and sending them out to deliver Starbucks direct to your doorstep.

Mail delivery would still be performed, but the next time it takes two weeks for your letter to get across town, you won’t mind. Customers’ expectations reasonably would be diminished, because — hey — what does a coffee shop counterperson know about mail delivery?

So if your contract hasn’t arrived by the end of the next business day — no sweat! Sit back and enjoy another cup of chai!

The 574,000 former employees of the defunct U.S.P.S. will have the option to apply for employment with Starbucks. Some may object to losing their labor-union representation. Others may object to limited breaks, or to requirements to behave politely toward customers. Those who can’t cut the mustard will be offered a consolatory cup of latte (only one per customer, while supplies last; void in Utah).

But most former postal workers will be glad to wave goodbye to that old “Neither rain nor snow” bullshit. How did they ever manage to keep up that phony act for so long?

Soon you’ll see that moods are improving across the board, as it becomes impossible to tell who’s waiting for service in the post office and who’s just hanging out, drinking coffee, writing in their journals, and listening to the super-cool music Starbucks always plays.

And in faraway Washington, our representatives will be able to return to other pressing issues of the day, confident that they have served their constituents well, albeit not quite so well as they’d serve us if they, too, were Starbucks baristas.

Read more!

17 September 2011

How to Solve the Problem of America’s Uninsured

At last, a policy we can all endorse.

Since the number of Americans without health insurance rose to record levels — and since months of wrangling in Congress failed to come up with an “Obamacare” that sincerely pleased anybody at all — the nation continues to debate the best response to a persistent problem. Even the leading candidates for the Presidency don’t seem to have the answer — but I do.

Effective immediately, the federal government should purchase lions from cash-strapped zoos and circuses across the country. I know what you’re thinking: “Who’s going to pay for those lions?” Well, don’t worry, because those lions are going to pay for themselves!

The lions would be kept in football stadiums all over America — and really, what community worthy of the name doesn’t have one? “Who’s going to feed them?” you ask, still worried about government spending. But don’t worry! I’ve got that figured out, too.

Every Saturday afternoon, uninsured residents of the United States, having been assigned lottery numbers, will report to their local stadium, where a paying crowd is waiting. (Ticket sales and television rights will more than cover administrative costs, as you’ll see.)

Then, one by one, the uninsured will be thrown to the hungry lions, while the cheering crowd watches.

Instantly, we as a people need never again fear that we’re indirectly paying for medical care for the uninsured, who spread disease or rely on hospital emergency rooms and generally prove a burden to taxpayers everywhere.

Moreover, we can freely indulge two of America’s greatest passions: our love of sports, and our love of the death penalty.

Indeed, previous health-care proposals have failed precisely because they weren’t American enough. “Too European,” the critics are quick to say; “too Socialist.” There’s no such problem with my plan — you can’t get more American than the Saturday Slaughter!

Over time, we may even need to buy a few tigers, panthers, and bears to keep up with the vast supply of victims.

“But wait,” you say, “do uninsured Americans really deserve to die?” Really, it’s sweet of you to ask. But I’d like to remind you that America is a free country, where we’re free to make our own decisions about our health. And if we decide to do something that will ultimately kill us, that’s our right, and no one can take that away from us, thank God.

Really, the Saturday Slaughter is the humane option. With health care costs soaring and insurance plans shrinking even as they get more expensive, fewer Americans can afford to choose the insurance plan that works best for them. Rather than continue to rack up massive debt they’re unlikely ever to pay off, those who are sick already will probably be glad to be thrown to the lions!

And my plan need not mean the creation of a permanent federal program simply to address a near-term crisis. If we pace the weekly slaughters appropriately (say, 20 or 30 executions per community per week), we’ll run out of uninsured in a few decades, at which time the program can be dissolved.

Also, throwing the uninsured to the lions will create jobs! Private contractors will obtain licenses to purvey concessions at each stadium. In layman’s terms, this means that you can apply to sell peanuts in the stands during Saturday Slaughters!

Granted, your paycheck probably will be tiny. But it’s a job. Plus, you’ll get to see the Slaughter for free! How great is that?

Best of all, if we price the tickets appropriately, America will generate vast reserves of revenue for years to come — without raising taxes! As we all know, raising taxes would be wrong.

Honestly, I can’t find a single fault with this plan. I hope you agree — and start writing your Congressional representatives and preferred Presidential candidates. Do it today!

Read more!

15 September 2011

Citing ‘Artistic Differences,’ Taylor Lautner’s Abs to Pursue Independent Career

The many moods of America’s favorite eight-pack:
Here, sophistication, wit, and glamour.

HOLLYWOOD -- In a surprise announcement, abdominal muscles have terminated their longtime partnership with actor Taylor Lautner — one of the most successful in recent movie history — in order to pursue independent projects.

“Taylor’s a nice guy, and I don’t regret the work we’ve done together,” the abdominal muscles said in a statement. “But I really feel that now is the time for me to grow as an actor, and unfortunately I don’t see any role for him in my future.”

Sources close to the abdominals say that the muscles grew frustrated with Lautner in recent months, telling friends that “Taylor is really holding me back as an artist.”

Determination and courage.

Hollywood insiders agreed. “Abs should have made this move ages ago,” said one high-profile casting director. “Taylor has been riding their coattails for years now — dragging them down, really. There’s only so much you can do with Taylor. Whereas the abs? Sky’s the limit.”

Lautner could not be reached for comment. Friends describe him as “crushed. This came from out of nowhere. He really feels betrayed.”

Lighthearted romance.

According to the abdominals’ agent, the next project on the calendar will be a comedy — something the muscles have been eager to do, “showing off the remarkable versatility and range of this fine actor,” despite Lautner’s reluctance to stray from action roles.

With Six-Pack You Get Fat-Free, High-Protein, Low-Carb Eggroll is slated to begin production in October.

Anger and a Thirst for Vengeance.
(But what they really want to do is direct.)

Read more!

12 September 2011

In Interview, Bush Remembers 9/11, Years of Dedicated Service to Al Qaeda

In an exclusive interview with TV’s National Geographic Channel, former U.S. President George W. Bush recalls the confusion and concern surrounding the events of September 11, 2001: how he first heard news of the attacks on New York and Washington, how he was initially prevented from returning to the White House, how he learned his family was safe, how he began to plan his course of subsequent action, and how he joined Al-Qaeda.

“A lot of people criticized me when we said, ‘Mission Accomplished’ [in 2003],” Bush conceded as he recalled his terrorist activities. “Well, I never said whose mission it was, did I? I’d just effectively hogtied the United States military and gutted its treasury for years to come. I’d single-handedly turned Iran into a global power — and I was just getting started!”

Bush, who took office in 2001 after a disputed national election, was approached early in his presidency by Al Qaeda agents hoping to include him in a “sleeper cell” that also included former Vice-President Dick Cheney and former Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld. Though he was late to join the team, waiting until September 13, 2001, Bush insisted that his leadership made the crucial difference.

Bush, with Cheney, demonstrates the wrong way to throw up one’s hands in surrender. The two men often clashed over how best to serve Al Qaeda’s interests, Bush says.

“I think any objective person can see, when you take a look at my record, that I did more damage to the country — the economy, the infrastructure, our international reputation, the public psyche, lives lost, you name it — than Osama bin Laden ever did,” Bush told the Geographic interviewer. “Shoot, just look at how much of the country’s money I spent to invade Iraq! They’ll be generations paying that off. Osama always paid his bills, but not me.

“Plus, that old softie probably would have tried to rescue some of the poor folks in Hurricane Katrina,” Bush added. “Just stick out a hand and pull ’em out of the water, or something. Well, you’d never see me weakening that way! Death to the infidels! I killed more of ’em than Osama ever dreamed of, I can tell you that much!

“Loo loo loo loo loo loo loo loo loo!” he continued, attempting to ululate. “Still getting the hang of that,” he admitted. “Sorry.”

An Al Qaeda spokesman confirmed that Bush’s actions while in office proved immensely effective when it came to motivating new recruits, and he praised such measures as secret prisons, torture and abuse, and perceived insults to Islam for “drastically altering the playing field. Within a few days, and for the remainder of his term of office, Bush made Al Qaeda look like heroes to much of the rest of the world,” the spokesman said.

Osama, “Not the easiest guy to work for,” Bush says.
“He made my mother look like a pushover.”

However, the spokesman acknowledged, some analysts have determined that Cheney, not Bush, was the more influential operative, “and in the field, we ourselves were never certain.”

Bush remains bitter, he says, that he never received the credit he feels is his due. “Not even a thank-you note from Mister ‘Oh, I’m So Important, I Can’t Be Bothered’ Osama! Not even after I distracted our military in Afghanistan by invading Iraq, which is what gave him the chance to run away to Pakistan and live it up like a king for the rest of his life. Some people have no sense of class, I’m telling you.

“But it’s all right. When I get to Paradise, I know who’s getting the 72 virgins. You’re looking right at him. Just don’t talk to Laura about it, okay?”

As for who deserves the lion’s share of credit, however, “I’m secure,” Bush told the interviewer. “I know history will judge me, and I’m comfortable with that. My record speaks for itself.”

Read more!

11 September 2011

All the Mornings of the World

The French term for “still life” is nature morte — “dead nature.” Corneau’s film claims that this painting, by Lubin Baugin, represents the mystery of Sainte-Colombe’s communion with his late wife.

Last night I watched Alain Corneau’s Tous les matins du monde for perhaps the first time since its initial release, 20 years ago. It is a densely packed, enveloping film, as much about silence as it is about music, as much about death and decay as it is about love and betrayal. The film’s climax comes as the protagonists, an elderly composer and his former student, now a dissolute courtier, try to communicate with each other. Music says those things we cannot say with language, the old man explains, and the younger man begins to propose a number of circumstances in which we need music.

This discussion hit a nerve, because for the past several day I have been trying to put my thoughts into good order, as we drew closer to the tenth anniversary of the attacks of 9/11. The little I can say about it, I have said already. Nothing I wrote then has changed since.

Anne Brochet, as Madeleine de Sainte-Colombe,
with Guillaume Depardieu, as Marin Marais.

Beyond that? We thought the world would change — for the better — but it really hasn’t much, except in the way that anything changes, a decade on. Yes, New Yorkers have shown one another exemplary courtesy in some of the upsets that followed (most recently, Hurricane Irene), but the city, never easy, has grown only harder and less welcoming in the years since, as I have discovered in trying to move back here. They love you in this town if you’re a tourist or a millionaire. But for the rest of us — well, who wants to write about that, or to dwell on it?

What has changed for me is my attitude toward music. Two performances especially got me through the days that followed September 11: Karina Gauvin’s hair-raising, ultimately cathartic reading of Haydn’s Mass in a Time of Fear,* with Bernard Labadie and Les Violons du Roy; and Leontyne Price’s concentration, in two simple songs at a benefit concert at Carnegie Hall, of all the anger, defiance, pride, pain, and love we’d been feeling. Is it a wonder that, ever since, I have sought out more and more not only the art but also the company of musicians?

I was there.

But what, exactly, has music given me in return for my renewing devotions? I can’t quite put it into words — any more than the musicians can, in Tous les matins du monde.

In that scene, the younger man tries to put into words what music does and why it’s needed. His initial answers are glib, and the old man grows frustrated, until he’s barely able to get out the word “Non” in reply. Then the younger man tries again, more simply and sincerely, and the older man is mollified. They end by making peace with each other.

Guillaume Depardieu as the young Marin Marais.

The scene is rife with paradox, starting with the fact that this is the first time in the entire movie in which both men attempt to communicate with each other by speaking: not by action and not by playing music. And yet their conversation, high-minded and wise though it may seem, is doomed, for it raises a question that cannot be answered in words.**

Gérard Depardieu plays the younger man, Marin Marais. (In earlier scenes, Depardieu’s son Guillaume plays him.) The older man is Monsieur de Sainte-Colombe, about whom almost nothing is known, and he is played by Jean-Pierre Marielle. Both composers were relatively obscure before the movie came out, but thereupon both enjoyed a resurgence of interest. The movie has already warned us that music has the power to bring back the dead, as Sainte-Colombe’s playing summons his late wife to his side in several scenes.

Marielle as Sainte-Colombe.

But does music bring the dead to life again? No. Music brings us closer to God, perhaps, but it doesn’t make us God. Music gave me the strength to endure 9/11, but it didn’t give me — or Leontyne Price, or Karina Gauvin — or any of my friends — the power to undo it.

I am left with nothing better than to repeat the old saying that gives the source novel*** of Corneau’s film its title: Tous les matins du monde sont sans retour — each day dawns but once.

Each day, including this one.

Marielle, as Sainte-Colombe, evokes the spirit of his beloved wife.
Jordi Savall plays on the soundtrack.

*NOTE: The Haydn work had been programmed as part of a Québecois cultural festival and announced well before the attacks on 9/11. With a kind of courage we may not remember clearly, the Canadian musicians agreed to come to New York later in the month, exactly as scheduled, despite the risks.

**My friend Fred Plotkin, on his blog for WQXR Radio, must have been operating on the same wavelength, or harmonizing with me spiritually. His recent entry considers the relationship between the unspeakable sorrows of 9/11 and the wordless power of music.

***The novel is by Pascal Quignard.

Read more!

09 September 2011

President’s Economic Proposal Wins Early Approval

Obama: “You should pass this ‘jobs’ bill right away.”

WASHINGTON -- Before a joint session of Congress, President Barack Obama last night made an unusually passionate plea for his new plan to give America’s ailing economy “a jolt.” Leaders in both major parties immediately hailed his proposal as “an important step in the right direction, and one we will give our full consideration,” according to Speaker of the House John Boehner.

“We’ve made it hard for Americans for so long,” Obama told Congress. “In this case, I think we can all agree that bigger government may be an asset, after all.”

According to the President’s proposal, entitled “Pimping for America,” members of both houses of Congress will form a state-owned escort agency, prostituting themselves “at reasonable rates for these economically challenged times,” with all proceeds going “directly into the pockets of the American people,” Obama said. “In this way, we can really stimulate growth.”

Americans, the President said, “are tired of the in-and-out of Washington political games. It’s time for change, change we can all get behind.

“Make no mistake,” Obama told the joint session, “from this point forward, when we screw the country, the country will get something in return.”

Stimulus: With the 2012 campaign already underway,
both parties seek to avoid election dysfunction.

Economic analysts agreed that “Members Only,” the newly formed Congressional prostitution ring, could result in a slight rise in household income almost immediately. But they warned that the potential revenues will be significantly lower than White House estimates.

“It’s a bold plan, and better than expected,” Nobel Prize-winning economist Paul Krugman wrote in The New York Times, where he regularly urges the President to take an active role in the stimulus.

“But even in Washington, johns have discriminating tastes,” Krugman added. “Apart from [Maine Republican Senator] Olympia Snowe, I don’t think many of the members are going to find many takers. Man, is she a SILF!”

White House sources told reporters that President Obama devised his “Pimping for America” proposal when Louisiana Senator David Vitter publicly balked at attending the joint session because it might conflict with last night’s NFL season opener. A conservative Republican who espouses “family values,” Vitter was involved in a prostitution scandal in 2007 but reelected to office in 2010.

“If we’re going to do this kind of thing anyway,” President Obama told Congress, “let’s do it the right way — and right away. The meter is running.”

Boehner: May starve to death,
but at least he won’t have to change his name.

Read more!

07 September 2011

Elton John in Saratoga: The Bitch Is SPAC

Elton John first performed at the Saratoga Performing Arts Center in 1971, he told the audience. On 4 September, he returned —
and yes, he did sing “The Bitch Is Back.”
A shot of one of the video screens during the concert.

The world of music has changed so much since Elton John got started that I’m no longer comfortable categorizing his work as rock’n’roll. It doesn’t feel like rock, at least not to me: it’s pop music, plain and simple, and part of the proof of that lies in his scores to The Lion King, Billy Elliot, and the Broadway version of Aida.*

Thus I’m unsure whether the concert I attended at the Saratoga Performing Arts Center (SPAC) this weekend can rightly be construed as a rock concert, an art form of which I have witnessed almost no examples. The best thing to do in these circumstances, I decided, was simply to sit back and enjoy the music. And that, I realized, is precisely what Sir Elton was doing, too.

Stormy weather: Even when it wasn’t raining,
the skies were menacing.

Gone are the sequins, the feathers, the outrageous costumes, the flashpots and fireworks and the daredevil stunts. Is it only that Sir Elton is older, or is he simply more comfortable with who he is? I suspect the latter, and who he is, is a passionate piano player, a sometimes exciting vocalist, and a gifted craftsman of a composer. His band includes a couple of veterans, a guitarist and a percussionist who have been with him practically since the cradle, but it also includes two very young cellists, not what one expects in a hard-rock concert.**

In driving rain that turned our lawn-seating area into a mudslide (itself nearly as entertaining as anything onstage), with Irene-related flooding only just receding and a tornado dipping nearby (and briefly threatening the start of the concert), Sir Elton performed for more than two and a half uninterrupted hours. Give him extra credit for stamina. The crowd was mostly my age — or older — though there were some youngsters present who didn’t appear to be escorted by their parents.

Slip ’n’ Slide: As the evening progressed, folks had increasing difficulty making their way up and down the muddy track.

Our enthusiasm was primarily reserved for Sir Elton’s Greatest Hits, and he rewarded us with a survey of many, but not all, of his best-known songs, everything from “Rocket Man” to “Crocodile Rock,” culminating, perhaps inevitably, with “Your Song.” (He didn’t sing “Candle in the Wind,” and since I’d overdosed on that particular number the only other time I heard him perform live, I wasn’t sorry in the least.)

Some more recent numbers, from a collaboration with Leon Russell, bespoke a desire to write a kind of Great American Pop Opera, but the trouble here is that Sir Elton isn’t American. What, if anything, does “Shiloh” mean to him? The music offered no clues. But neither Sir Elton nor his audience spent much time puzzling out the mystery, and soon enough we were back on track with songs we knew well enough to accompany.

Dry look: The crowd inside the SPAC.
Perhaps needless to say, this isn’t quite how folks behaved
when I heard Yo Yo Ma here in August.

Which may be just as well. Elton John’s music has been in the background of my consciousness for most of my life, but I don’t know any of his lyrics by heart. With his voice substantially lower than it was a few decades ago, Sir Elton growls and roars, but his diction is terrible. I doubt that I understood a complete sentence in more than a couple of numbers. Does that limit his expressive ability? Yes, it does. Others in the audience, being more devoted fans, clearly didn’t mind.

For those, like me, who didn’t have indoor seating at SPAC (an open-air venue, but it does at least have a roof), video cameras caught every second, with the images projected on giant screens around and on top of the auditorium. The video was exceptionally well directed, and I was particularly grateful for the frequent close-ups of Sir Elton’s piano playing. He’s got terrific technique, and in every number, it was his hands that communicated most clearly with us.

Outdoor seating at the SPAC, before the concert.
You can see some of us preparing our tarps and umbrellas already.

Jet-lagged and frazzled by the rain, unaccustomed to amplified music, at last I had to back away from the concert, searching (in vain) for shelter from the volume and from the storm’s fury even as I listened to the last few numbers. To an extent, the experience was wasted on me — and not only because I’d flown back from Paris the day before.

Yet I was glad of the experience. I kept remembering the friend from junior high, whose admiration for Sir Elton was such that he became her invisible friend, forever perched, she said, on her shoulder. In a way, I could see her this evening, perched on his shoulder, connecting past and present, influence and inspiration, reminding me of the power of pop music to inform my life, whether I’ve listened closely or not. His songs have always been there in the background, and for one night, they took center stage.

See that teeny bleached-out blip at the piano?
That’s Elton John, as I saw him.

And as for Sir Elton himself, it’s absolutely salutary to see an artist who has gained such confidence that he lets his work speak for itself. May we all arrive at that point, whatever we’ve done in our lives.

*NOTE: It’s perhaps unsurprising that I never saw a performance of nor heard a note of Elton John’s Aida. I like the man well enough, but I can’t condone the sort of hubris that says, “Hey, kids, let’s put on a show! We’ll do a new adaptation of Aida — and we’ll start by throwing out Verdi’s music!”

**There was no opening act per se, but those cellists, Luka Šulić and Stjepan Hauser, began the evening with three duets of pop/rock standards. This might have interested me more had they been playing conventional instruments, but these were electric, not acoustic cellos: bare skeletons with a few strings attached to an amp. That they were able to elicit such a hard drive from these devices seemed less than remarkable — but if they can perform similar feats with the real thing, I’ll pay closer attention.

Šulić and Hauser (the scruffy one, seen on the screen) have their own act, which they call 2Cellos.
UPDATE: Yes, these are the guys who played backup in Santana’s rendition of “Smooth criminal” in Glee’s Michael Jackson episode.

Read more!