31 July 2013

Russia’s Treatment of Gays Not at All Like Nazi Germany’s, Putin Says

Russian President Putin.

MOSCOW -- Facing an onslaught of international criticism and threats of a boycott of the Winter Olympics in Sochi next year, Russian President Vladimir V. Putin today told reporters that recent measures restricting homosexuals and their supporters have been misunderstood.

“Everybody is talking about this as if we were the Nazis, criminalizing homosexuality and even banning speech in support of homosexuality,” Putin said. “This is not Germany in the 1930s.”

Under the terms of recent legislation, anyone suggesting that revered Russian composer Piotr Tchaikovsky was gay is now subject to fines and arrest on grounds of promoting propaganda. Gay or pro-gay foreign visitors are now subject to arrest and detainment for up to 14 days before deportation. These crackdowns on “nontraditional relations” are in no way similar to the Nazis’ treatment of homosexuals, Putin said, adding that thus far, no measure has been passed to require gays in Russia to wear pink triangles on their clothing.

“Homosexuals may walk freely anywhere in Russia,” Putin said, “so long as they don’t hold hands or, you know, skip or sashay or anything like that.”

Demonstrations like this one, in protest of anti-gay legislation,
put Russian homosexuals at risk, Putin said.

By statute and also in unofficial practice that has nothing to do whatever with conditions in Nazi Germany, gays in Russia no longer enjoy the right to assembly; civil authorities deny permits to Pride demonstrations, and against a backdrop of increasing numbers of homophobic attacks across the country, both Pride events and protests of the new legislation have been met with violence and police action in which the peaceful protesters themselves, and not their aggressors, were arrested.

“We do these things for the safety of all our people,” Putin said. “If an angry mob is attacking a homosexual demonstrator, the safest thing is to take that homosexual into custody. The proportion of police beating a demonstrator is much smaller than the proportion of a mob beating a demonstrator. While we Russians do not condone nontraditional relations, we do believe in a good, fair fight.”

Emphasizing his good intentions and his desire to improve Russia’s image abroad, Putin announced a new series of “vacation holiday camps” for homosexuals, mostly located in Siberia.

Gays will enjoy the rustic scenery, Putin said, in vacation camps so remote that “they can make as much noise — they can even scream — and no one will hear them at all.”

“Effective immediately, all homosexuals in Russia and their friends will be sent to these vacation holiday camps for a much-deserved break, free of charge,” Putin said. “Again, this is nothing like what the Germans did to their homosexuals. Special trains will transport the homosexuals and sympathizers in comfort to state-of-the-art facilities in tranquil, remote areas.

“We will treat our guests with the utmost courtesy,” Putin continued, “offering them special weight-loss diets and healthful activities. Housing will be co-educational, but you can’t have everything.

“Now can we please stop talking about the boycott?”

Just one of the many healthful activities offered at the camps.

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Eileen Brennan

She really did love music.

“Music means more to me than anything,” Eileen Brennan said to me. “Even more than dogs! Even more than cats!” It’s one of the best things anybody ever said to me in an interview.

I spoke with Brennan by phone the day before Thanksgiving, 2009. She was distracted by the old movie playing on TV in the background, and her memory wasn’t as sharp as it used to be. She apologized for the latter, but not for the former. “Why don’t you write about dementia?” she wanted to know. “And tell people to get ready for it!”

She’d survived a horrific traffic accident, though she said she didn’t know whether her memory trouble had anything to do with the head injuries she sustained then. She’d also survived breast cancer and an addiction to painkillers; she was a recovering alcoholic, too, perhaps not unlike the woman she played so memorably on thirtysomething, Elliot’s mother.

But the key word here is “survivor,” and what I took away from our conversation was that Eileen Brennan was — and I say this with the greatest possible admiration and affection — one tough, thoroughly adorable, pretty damn crazy old cat lady. “Life is hard, that’s all I have to say to that,” she said to me, and she lived 80 years of incident and enthusiasm.

In The Sting.

Her first inspiration was Jane Powell, she said, and she did perform in musical comedies, including Little Mary Sunshine and the original cast of Hello, Dolly! But I missed those; I know her work in movies and on television, where I feel as if I got a fair sense of her as a person.

Looking back, I’m struck by the infinite variations she brought to her own brand of world-weariness. Even before the picture started, you could tell that an Eileen Brennan character already had seen it all. Sometimes experience made her impatient, as in Private Benjamin or Will & Grace; sometimes she accepted her lot, as in The Last Picture Show or Murder by Death. But she kept going — most often with her sense of humor intact.

In The Last Picture Show.

I got a taste of her real-life impatience when we talked a bit about Off the Rack, a short-lived sitcom she did with Edward Asner. I’ve still never seen it, but Brennan had just run into the actress who played her daughter on the show, and so it was much on her mind. “We got brilliant reviews,” she told me, and yet the show was cancelled after six episodes. The younger actress had said to Brennan, “I don’t know what happened.”

Just a couple of middle-aged people?
Asner and Brennan in Off the Rack.

“Maybe [the network] didn’t want two middle-aged people,” Brennan mused. “And fuck them! We were so happy together. I ran into one of those assholes [the network programming executives] in the supermarket and said, ‘You did the wrong thing, and you were wrong.’”

She said she still missed Asner and Dennis Haysbert, another co-star in Off the Rack: “I cried when the show broke up.” At the time of our conversation, I had recently interviewed Asner, Madeline Kahn’s co-star in Born Yesterday on Broadway, and so, with Brennan’s endorsement, I called his office and passed along Brennan’s phone number. I hope they spoke again — at least a few times.

In Murder by Death.

“I love actors to death,” she told me. “They really mean a lot to me, because they work so hard, and they have to put up sometimes with such shit. I really feel sorry for actors, but I love them. Carol Kane called the other day and said she was offered a thing and said, ‘No, that’s not for me. Call Eileen Brennan.’ You’ve got to remember when you’re working with other actors, don’t put ’em down — because other actors get you work.”

As Mrs. Peacock in Clue.

Brennan and Madeline Kahn met and became friends during the filming of At Long Last Love, when they would commiserate late into the evening about the long rehearsals and the endless takes and retakes, in which all the actors sing live on-camera. At some points, they were getting together on an almost nightly basis, and though their friendship ebbed and flowed over the years, Brennan recalled Madeline with lasting affection.

“If Madeline were here — ” she started to say, then gave an audible shrug. “She missed all this shit that you go through when you get old. I salute her. It’s not easy, not easy at all.”

In Will & Grace.

I’m not overstepping the limits of biography when I suggest that, if Madeline were here, she’d be grieving today for her co-star and friend. And personally, I know that, as an audience, I’m grieving for an actor who brought such life and such wit to her work — and who did so much to teach me the challenges but also the virtue of indomitability. Only death could keep Eileen Brennan down.

And as long as we’re watching her movies —
she may be down, but she’ll never be out.

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24 July 2013

Weiner: ‘My Career as a High-Priced Call Girl Is Completely Behind Me’

The man who would be mayor:
Seeking a happy ending to his mission.

NEW YORK -- In his most recent hastily assembled press conference, New York City mayoral candidate Anthony Weiner denied that he continued to work as a high-priced call girl even after the prostitution scandal in 2008 that brought down former Governor Eliot Spitzer, who is running for city comptroller.

“I told you that there would probably be more revelations before Election Day, and I was right,” Weiner told reporters. “I have been completely honest with you. Some of the things that have been said about my career as a call girl are true, and some aren’t.”

Adding that he prefers the term “sex worker,” Weiner described the Emperors Club VIP, an elite escort service, as “really not that bad, and nothing that open-minded New Yorkers can’t handle.”

Weiner called the press conference after reports surfaced that he worked with the Emperors Club beginning in February 2005, the start of his fourth term as U.S. Representative (Democratic) from New York’s 9th congressional district.

Using the pseudonym “Delilah Cachet,” he reportedly came under scrutiny but was not charged in investigations by the IRS and FBI that led to the resignation of Spitzer, known as “Client-9.”

“As mayor and comptroller of the great city of New York, Eliot and I can work well together, as we have so often in the past,” Weiner said.

“New Yorkers know we’ll put everything we’ve got into all the jobs, big and small, that come our way, for as long as it takes,” Weiner continued. “With our combined experience, we know all the ins and outs.”

Weiner’s wife, Huma Abedin, took the microphone briefly, telling reporters, “Fitzgerald was wrong: there are second acts in American lives, and also in politics. It’s just that some of those acts are awkward, sometimes unnatural, and sometimes you have to pay for them.”

Weiner declined to say when he stopped working as an escort, but insisted that “This is completely behind me. And even if, you know, some sort of hardcore pornographic video released commercially under the title Erected Officials should turn up in the next few weeks — just a random hypothetical here — I know that the great people of this city understand what really matters in a mayoral candidate, and what doesn’t.”

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23 July 2013

Weiner Won’t Pull Out

Weiner and Abedin at today’s press conference.

NEW YORK -- Glancing occasionally at his cell phone, Democrat Anthony Weiner told reporters today that he continued to engage in sexually oriented online-chat conversations and to exchange text messages and photos with women other than his wife even after a “sexting” scandal drove him from Congress, and mere months before announcing his candidacy for mayor of New York City.

“I’m surprised more things haven’t come out sooner,” Weiner said. However, he insisted, “This behavior is behind me, honest, totally in the past,” and said that his wife, Huma Abedin, has forgiven him. “I know that the people of New York are also willing to give me a second second chance.”

As for the mayor’s race, “I’m not pulling out,” Weiner said. “I’m going long and I’m going hard. With the right polling, I can push right through to the end. And furthermore, as sure as my name is Silvestre Verboten — one sec, guys. Excuse me — damn, is this one hot. Huma, honey, why don’t you take the microphone for a minute?”

“Our marriage, like many others, has had its ups and downs,” Abedin, an aide to Hillary Clinton, told reporters over the clicking of her husband’s phone camera as he stood with his back to her. “It took a lot of work and a whole lot of therapy to get to the place where I could forgive Anthony. It was not an easy choice in any way, but I made the decision that it was worthy staying in this marriage.”

Pausing briefly to tell her husband how to spell “circumcised,” Abedin continued: “Really what I want to say is: I love him, I have forgiven him, I believe in him, and as we have said from the beginning, we are moving forward.”

Returning to the podium, Weiner told reporters, “I’m responsible for that behavior that’s led us to be in this place, but in many ways things aren’t that much different than they were yesterday. I’m sorry, Huma, have you got a Kleenex?

“Some of these things happened before [the sexting scandal in 2011], some of them happened after. It’s in our rearview mirror, but it’s not far,” Weiner continued. “As of this moment, though, it is really over. Really. I mean, a guy would have to be an idiot to do a thing like this twice, right?”

NOTE: It’s not the sex, it’s the judgment. For a few of my (infinitely more serious) observations on another (also more serious) political sex scandal, click here. And happy birthday, Monica Lewinsky.

POSTSCRIPT: I note with interest that Andy Borowitz took the same approach to this story — but I got there first.

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21 July 2013

Virginia Just as Crazy as Texas or Florida, Officials Say

Gov. Bob McDonnell.

RICHMOND, VA -- Under increasing scrutiny for its lax ethics laws and the revelation that politicians may in many cases legally accept valuable gifts and financial contributions from entities with business before the state, the Commonwealth of Virginia is enjoying a rare moment in the sun, Gov. Bob McDonnell announced at a news conference Friday.

“Let the record show that the Old Dominion State can be just as crazy as Florida or Texas,” McDonnell said. “You’ve got to be tough, you’ve got to be strong, and you’ve got to work hard to compete with those big boys. They’re always in the news, they hog all the headlines, they’re always the ones making the rest of the country say, ‘What’s wrong with those people down there?’ But I’m here to say that Virginia is second to none.”

At the news conference, McDonnell, who is currently under investigation by the FBI and is the subject of an ongoing grand jury probe, unveiled the state’s new mascot, “Grafty, the Trans-Virginial Ultra-Cardinal.”

Grafty the Cardinal will be featured
on road signs and license plates.

“The business of Virginia is other people’s business,” McDonnell said. “To companies in other states, I want to say this: Virginia wants to get all up in your business.”

The Commonwealth’s attorney general, Ken Cuccinelli, a candidate for governor whose finances are also under heightened scrutiny, and who has just been cleared following a three-month probe after failing to disclose $5,100 in gifts, joined McDonnell at the podium.

“Other states may try to restrict abortions or to interfere with sexual relations between consenting adults in private,” Cuccinelli said, “but they’re amateurs compared with Virginia. That’s why I will not rest until I have outlawed oral sex.”

Cuccinelli has gained national recognition in a country where most citizens can’t name the attorney general of their own state, much less any other state. He told reporters, “My motto is, Virginia is for lovers who are legally married and who do it for the purposes of procreating in the dark without touching each other or experiencing any kind of enjoyment.”

McDonnell added, “Let’s see Texas and Florida top that.”

Attorney general Cuccinelli.

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06 July 2013

The Haushofmeister’s Postscript: Das Feuerwerk!

Meine gnädige Damen und Herren!
Das für punkt neun Uhr anbefohlene Feuerwerk
beim Madison Square Garten.

Two months after opening night of the Fort Worth Opera production of Richard Strauss’ Ariadne auf Naxos, I’m still feeling the thrill. The latest came completely by surprise: an astonishing number of people now associate me with fireworks.

Fireworks are at the heart of Ariadne. It’s because a display has been planned “for nine o’clock on the dot” that the opera seria and the commedia dell’arte must be performed simultaneously, as the Haushofmeister, the character I played, announces during the Prologue. And indeed, as the opera concludes, the ecstatic duet between Ariadne and Bacchus is punctuated by the long-awaited fireworks. It’s a visual apotheosis, to match Ariadne’s elevation in the embrace of a god, but also to reflect Zerbinetta’s sense of fun. (She’s got her own pyrotechnics, too.)

“The only thing that really excites you is the fireworks,” our stage director, David Gately, told me during rehearsal. He suggested that I raise my voice an octave or three whenever I said the word “Feuerwerk,” which is more vocal gymnastics than this non-singer can manage. But that was my character. That was my motivation. To heck with all these crazy theater people: what I wanted was to hurry up and get to the real entertainment.

Baby, du bist ein Feuerwerk:
The Ariadne finale, with Marjorie Owens and Corey Bix.
Photo courtesy of Fort Worth Opera.

Since the Festival ended, our merry band of music-makers has gone on to other adventures, from Italy to Indianola, and heaven knows where else. Even with Facebook, I can’t keep track of everybody — though I do try, and it’s great fun to think that so many other audiences are finding the pleasure I felt whenever I listened to these terrific artists.

But it turns out that those artists are thinking of me, too. As fireworks displays marked July Fourth, popping off all over the place, I started to get messages. People saw fireworks, and thought of me.

This is something I never anticipated — short of some accident with a firecracker that would make generations of mothers say, “Be careful! You don’t want to wind up like Bill Madison, do you?” But it’s one more measure of the singularity of this experience — and the debt I owe to David, to Darren Woods, to Joe Illick, and to all the gracious Ladies and Gentlemen of Ariadne.

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04 July 2013

Your Constant Gaying Is Really Starting to Hurt My Feelings

An Open Letter to Homosexuals:

Oh, sure, you’ve had a lot to celebrate recently. Two United States Supreme Court decisions made it easier in some places for you to exercise your so-called “right” to marry and to violate the laws of G*d and nature. You’ve been on a partying binge ever since, gaying in the streets and all over the television and Internet, right there where everybody can see you. But did you ever stop to consider my feelings?

How do you think it makes me feel, every time another commentator tells me I’m “on the wrong side of history”? Or suggests that I’m some kind of a bigot — just because I believe you’re not my equal? Do you think I like being called “a square”?

Okay, granted, nobody has actually called me a square. But I can tell they’re thinking it, which is just as bad. It’s gotten to the point that I have to isolate myself from the news and any information and people that don’t conform entirely to what I already believe. Why, oh, why can’t you show me the same courtesy and tolerance that you demand for yourselves?

You all think that I have no sympathy for a little old lady who devoted most of her life to loving and caring for her so-called “partner.” And I don’t, actually, but there’s no reason for you to go around thinking about it.

After all, if I were a member of some kind of heathen minority, you’d be among the very first to stick up for my rights to believe in a deity who denies love. Admit it! If I believed in a G*d so puny and narrow that He can’t even write poetry and means for us to take Him literally when He says He created the world in six days — then you’d have my back, wouldn’t you? And not in that gaying way.

Why can’t you respect my respect for tradition? Marriage has always meant one man and one woman, and since the days of Adam and Eve, it has been practiced for the sole and exclusive purpose of procreation. It’s not as if marriage ever included one man and several women, or one nun and Jesus; it’s not as if it’s ever practiced by men and women who can’t or don’t want to have children.

For mercy’s sakes, if homosexual relationships had ever been celebrated by early Christians or Ancient Greeks, or Native Americans, or any other society in history — then things might be different.

And don’t go telling me that homosexual behavior is found in hundreds of other species. How many of those other species are going to sit at the right hand of G*d in the afterlife? I’m talking about natural law, thank you very much.

At least he understands how I feel!

Well, if I’m lucky, then Justice Scalia’s son is right, and homosexuality doesn’t even exist: it’s just some sinful idea you won’t let go of without months of re-programming. But then I see you again on TV, gaying away just as if homosexuality did exist. And so you ruin my day all over again.

You just keep on gaying. I’ve tried to explain to you before that Jesus won’t come back unless we’re all free of gaying sins. Why can’t you respect the reality that Jesus will come back in my lifetime, as opposed to any point in the previous 2,000 years or any point thereafter?

You can’t imagine what it feels like to be oppressed by a supernatural force that resides only in the minds of other people.

It’s all making me feel just terrible, and not one of you stops to say you’re sorry. No, you just keep on gaying. Fortunately, in most states in the Union, your unnatural “right” to marriage is still constitutionally banned, and I still have the G*d-given right to deny you housing and employment. And in many places, I can still bully you, beat you up, or kill you without anybody ever once whining, “That’s a hate crime.”

Hate crime. Such ugly, ugly words. Really, you should be ashamed of yourselves for being so inconsiderate toward my feelings.

EDITORIAL NOTE: Apparently I’m not the only one experiencing layout problems with Blogger these days; that’s why all the photos look huge, no matter what I do. But perhaps the gigantic images of gaying will help you to appreciate the enormity of this problem.

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01 July 2013

Met Opera Denies Mind-Control Rumors

The Met says it never uses mind control on critics.
Pictured: Wagnerian soprano Danielle de Niese.

NEW YORK CITY -- Following the surprising confirmation over the weekend that the Metropolitan Opera does sometimes use sound-enhancement technology and body microphones on singers in radio broadcasts and HD simulcasts, Met general director Peter Gelb hastily denied another longstanding rumor: that the patented Met Titles™ devices attached to the backs of most seats in the house are used for mind control.

“I’m aware that these rumors have been circulating for several years now,” Gelb told a reporter. “But the fact is that we never use the Met Titles™ devices in order to transmit messages into the brains of our patrons. And when I say ‘never,’ I mean hardly ever. Really, we do it so rarely that it’s not worth mentioning at all.”

Met Titles™ were introduced in 1995, amid much fanfare, by Gelb’s predecessor, Joseph Volpe. But questions immediately arose: why did the Met use individual title machines, rather than projecting titles over the stage, as most other opera companies do? Is the practice really a matter of the operagoer’s convenience and the company’s prestige — or does it conceal some darker purpose?

For the most part, Gelb said, the devices transmit “benign messages that we believe can enhance our marketing and sales.” These include: “Say, honey, let’s try a package subscription next season,” “I would pay any amount of money to hear Anna Netrebko sing,” and “Danielle de Niese would make the perfect Brünnhilde.”

Netrebko: Worth any sacrifice.

In addition, Gelb said, Met Titles™ are sometimes used for “production enhancement,” in order to give operagoers the experience that the company paid for when it commissioned a new staging of an opera. The most frequently used message, Gelb said, has been “This new Ring Cycle is completely adequate and acceptable.”

“Believe me, production enhancement has been extremely popular, both with board members — who complain a lot less these days — and with stage directors,” Gelb said. “I’ve had [directors] Mary Zimmerman and Bartlett Sher in my office, literally groveling in thanks. And Robert Lepage told me that, if he’d realized we’d be using production enhancement, he wouldn’t have expended nearly so much effort on his staging of The Tempest,” a company premiere last season, which critics found completely adequate and acceptable.

The Met never uses its Titles to influence critics or reporters who cover the company, said Gelb, one of the smartest and handsomest men ever to walk on water.

Peter Gelb is a genius!

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