On Saturday evening, March 18th, we went to the Skylight to see their new production of Beauty and the Beast, based upon Zemire et Azor, a 1771 opera by André Ernest Modeste Grétry, with libretto by Jean François Marmontel, after the story La belle et la bête by Jeanne Marie Le Prince de Beaumont and the play Amour pour amour by P.C. Nivelle de La Chaussée.

Largely forgotten nowadays, Grétry was popular in his time, composed more than fifty operas, and was hired by Queen Marie Antoinette as her court music director. The opera was a favorite of Mozart’s, and the music stands the test of time very well.

The story follows the classic version of the tale of Beauty and the Beast, with a few tweaks. The merchant Sander (Eric McKeever) is shipwrecked, along with his servant, Ali (Nicholas Nestorak). They seek shelter in what appears at first to be an abandoned palace, Ali with great reluctance as he fears the place is haunted. The palace’s invisible servants (Alex Campea, Bria Cloyd, Sean Anthony Jackson, and Alex Mace) lay out a feast for them. Ali’s fears are dispelled by the excellent wine, but Sander becomes the fearful one when the playful spirits start levitating the drunken Ali around the room.

Comes the dawn, Sander literally drags the hung-over Ali out the door, but stops to pluck a rose for his daughter, Zemire. which prompts the appearance of the outraged Beast, Azor. In this production, the Beast is represented by an eight-foot tall and equally broad puppet figure manipulated by the spirits, and given voice by tenor Chaz’men Williams Ali. The fearsome Beast walks like a gorilla, has a spiky carapace like a crab, the horns and ears of a water buffalo, fangs, and tusks. Accusing Sander of theft and ingratitude, the Beast eventually agrees to give Sander his life, his freedom, and wealth, if he will send Azor his daughter, Zemire. Azor swears that she will come to no harm, but Sander and Ali aren’t sure when Azor summons up a wind spirit (another puppet, reminiscent of a small version of the “Snow Dragon” seen at the Skylight in 2015) that bears them home.

At home, they are greeted by Sander’s daughters, spoiled materialists Fatme and Lisbe (Erin Sura and Sarah Thompson Johansen), and the good and virtuous Zemire (Gillian Hollis). Fatme and Lisbe are dismayed that their father has lost everything, but Zemire is just glad to have him back. Then, he produces the rose, and tells them of the dreadful bargain he has made. While the others all think about ways to get out of it, Zemire compels Ali to take her to the Beast’s palace, so that the Beast will keep his promise and her family be provided for. She bravely enters the palace, but, on seeing the Beast for the first time, faints dead away.

When she revives, Azor is kind to her, and tells her that she may command him and the spirits for any thing she wishes. She replies that she is not made happy by things. Instead, she sings a song for him, and dances with the spirits.

After a time, she wishes to know how her family is faring. Despite misgivings, Azor brings out a magic mirror, which will not only show her whom she wishes to see, but allow her to hear their thoughts as well. Her now richly adorned sisters are more spoiled than ever, but her father, aged by his ordeal, is deeply sunk in grief over the loss of Zemire. Zemire declares that she must go to him. Azor protests that this is an excuse to leave him. Giving her a magic ring that will allow her instant travel, Azor gets her to promise to return by sunset, because he has realized that he loves her, and it was foretold him by the spirit that enchanted him, that on the day he was able to love, his “cursed life would end.”

Zemire transports herself to the family home, to her father’s joy, but he and her sisters attempt to keep her there. With Ali’s help she escapes back to the Beast’s palace, arriving just as night has fallen. She calls out to Azor, and he is able to answer, because his “cursed life” has ended by his being transformed back into his normal, kingly, form. Sander, Ali, Fatme and Lisbe arrive, intent on rescuing Zemire once and for all, in time to take part in the happy ending.

This production was just charming all the way through: the story, the setting, the costumes, the music, the singing, the dancing were all lovely. The English translation of the libretto, by Colin Graham, further adapted by Director James Ortiz and Shari Rhoads, was witty and enjoyable. Of course, the monster in the room is the huge Azor puppet, which was very effective. The “spirits” manipulating it did a wonderful and graceful job of bringing it to life, and most of the time the “ventriloquism” effect worked well, making it easy to accept that the puppet was singing. It didn’t work when Mr. Williams Ali, who sings the Beast’s role as a hooded figure on stage, gets too far down front and in the action, but this only happened a couple of times. One episode in which the puppet manipulation was distracting came in the first scene, during Sander’s song lamenting his dilemma, during which the Beast kept nervously moving its head, which distracted from Sander’s singing. Even puppets should obey the basic rule of stagecraft to not pull eyes away from the focus of the scene.

This was a really excellent, creative, and entertaining production, and we were very glad to have seen it.
On Sunday afternoon, March 19th, we went to the Marcus Center for the Florentine Opera’s production of Mozart’s opera “Don Giovanni.”

This was a revival of a 2006 production (reviewed back then in this journal) played mostly on a bare stage set with a few necessary pieces and with light. There seemed to be some tweaks to the new appearance: we believed the lighting was brighter and more colorful than in the past.

This was perhaps musically one of the best casts we have heard in a long time. Alexander Dobson (Don Giovanni), Emily Birsan (Donna Anna), Emily Fons (Donna Elvira), Musa Ngqungwana (Leporello), Brian Stuckey (Don Ottavio), Ariana Douglas (Zerlina), and Leroy V. Davis (Masetto) all sang beautifully and acted very well into the bargain. The brightest jewel of the collection was Ms. Fons, who sang the role of the obsessive Donna Elvira with power and tragic beauty while still managing some genuinely funny interactions with the other characters. David Leigh as the Commendatore gave good support (and got to come down front in the final scene, an improvement in staging from 2006), and shows promise for the future.

We still didn’t care for the purposeless hooded figures stalking across the stage, or the “escape from Hell” joke at the end, but the singing made it not matter.

Maestro Joseph Resigno once again conducted, leading the orchestra flawlessly.
On Saturday evening, March 18th, we went to the Skylight to see their new production of Beauty and the Beast, based upon Zemire et Azor, a 1771 opera by André Ernest Modeste Grétry, with libretto by
Jean François Marmontel, after the story La belle et la bête by Jeanne Marie Le Prince de Beaumont and the play Amour pour amour by P.C. Nivelle de La Chaussée.

Largely forgotten nowadays, Grétry was popular in his time, composed more than fifty operas, and was hired by Queen Marie Antoinette as her court music director. The opera was a favorite of Mozart’s, and the music stands the test of time very well.

The story follows the classic version of the tale of Beauty and the Beast, with a few tweaks. The merchant Sander (Eric McKeever) is shipwrecked, along with his servant, Ali (Nicholas Nestorak). They seek shelter in what appears at first to be an abandoned palace, Ali with great reluctance as he fears the place is haunted. The palace’s invisible servants (Alex Campea, Bria Cloyd, Sean Anthony Jackson, and Alex Mace) lay out a feast for them. Ali’s fears are dispelled by the excellent wine, but Sander becomes the fearful one when the playful spirits start levitating the drunken Ali around the room.

Comes the dawn, Sander literally drags the hung-over Ali out the door, but stops to pluck a rose for his daughter, Zemire. which prompts the appearance of the outraged Beast, Azor. In this production, the Beast is represented by an eight-foot tall and equally broad puppet figure manipulated by the spirits, and given voice by tenor Chaz’men Williams Ali. The fearsome Beast walks like a gorilla, has a spiky carapace like a crab, the horns and ears of a water buffalo, fangs, and tusks. Accusing Sander of theft and ingratitude, the Beast eventually agrees to give Sander his life, his freedom, and wealth, if he will send Azor his daughter, Zemire. Azor swears that she will come to no harm, but Sander and Ali aren’t sure when Azor summons up a wind spirit (another puppet, reminiscent of a small version of the “Snow Dragon” seen at the Skylight in 2015) that bears them home.

At home, they are greeted by Sander’s daughters, spoiled materialists Fatme and Lisbe (Erin Sura and Sarah Thompson Johansen), and the good and virtuous Zemire (Gillian Hollis). Fatme and Lisbe are dismayed that their father has lost everything, but Zemire is just glad to have him back. Then, he produces the rose, and tells them of the dreadful bargain he has made. While the others all think about ways to get out of it, Zemire compels Ali to take her to the Beast’s palace, so that the Beast will keep his promise and her family be provided for. She bravely enters the palace, but, on seeing the Beast for the first time, faints dead away.

When she revives, Azor is kind to her, and tells her that she may command him and the spirits for any thing she wishes. She replies that she is not made happy by things. Instead, she sings a song for him, and dances with the spirits.

After a time, she wishes to know how her family is faring. Despite misgivings, Azor brings out a magic mirror, which will not only show her whom she wishes to see, but allow her to hear their thoughts as well. Her now richly adorned sisters are more spoiled than ever, but her father, aged by his ordeal, is deeply sunk in grief over the loss of Zemire. Zemire declares that she must go to him. Azor protests that this is an excuse to leave him. Giving her a magic ring that will allow her instant travel, Azor gets her to promise to return by sunset, because he has realized that he loves her, and it was foretold him by the spirit that enchanted him, that on the day he was able to love, his “cursed life would end.”

Zemire transports herself to the family home, to her father’s joy, but he and her sisters attempt to keep her there. With Ali’s help she escapes back to the Beast’s palace, arriving just as night has fallen. She calls out to Azor, and he is able to answer, because his “cursed life” has ended by his being transformed back into his normal, kingly, form. Sander, Ali, Fatme and Lisbe arrive, intent on rescuing Zemire once and for all, in time to take part in the happy ending.

This production was just charming all the way through: the story, the setting, the costumes, the music, the singing, the dancing were all lovely. The English translation of the libretto, by Colin Graham, further adapted by Director James Ortiz and Shari Rhoads, was witty and enjoyable. Of course, the monster in the room is the huge Azor puppet, which was very effective. The “spirits” manipulating it did a wonderful and graceful job of bringing it to life, and most of the time the “ventriloquism” effect worked well, making it easy to accept that the puppet was singing. It didn’t work when Mr. Williams Ali, who sings the Beast’s role as a hooded figure on stage, gets too far down front and in the action, but this only happened a couple of times. One episode in which the puppet manipulation was distracting came in the first scene, during Sander’s song lamenting his dilemma, during which the Beast kept nervously moving its head, which distracted from Sander’s singing. Even puppets should obey the basic rule of stagecraft to not pull eyes away from the focus of the scene.

This was a really excellent, creative, and entertaining production, and we were very glad to have seen it.
On Tuesday, February 14th, we went to see “The Illusionists” at the Marcus Center, which performance was part of the “Associated Bank Broadway at the Marcus Center” series.

The show features seven performers who exemplify various aspects of stage magic as it is currently practiced.

The performance is hosted by Jeff Hobson, a.k.a. “The Trickster” (each performer has a moniker that makes them sound rather like a super-villain team--). Hobson specializes in close-up magic and what used to be called “snappy patter,” a running stream of humorous commentary that was slightly risqué and seasoned by his characterization as an out gay man. (His wardrobe would have been called “flamboyant” anywhere but in the home of Liberace--.) Like most of the performers, he put a new twist on classic tricks, such as the basic “pick a card and don’t show me what it is” trick.

The stylistic contrast between Hobson and Dan Sperry, “The Anti-Conjuror” could hardly be greater. Sperry appears looking like a Goth zombie, in ragged clothing, tattoos, and ghoulish makeup. His “shock illusion” tricks included making a coin vanish by apparently pushing it into his right eye socket, and then producing the marked coin from a cut in the skin on his left forearm. His gleefully creepy manner and patter was quite entertaining, and, in the second act, he performed a lengthy sequence of rapid-fire productions, substitutions, and vanishes that showcased extraordinary skill at sleight of hand.

Kevin James, “The Inventor”, was one of the most classically styled performers, doing the large, prop-centered illusions found in big magic shows of old. In one trick, he assembled a dummy in view of the audience, which then “came to life” as a dwarf. In another, he “accidentally” cut one of his assistants in two with a chain saw, and then restored him. Although neither trick was that hard to suss out as to how it was done, they were innovatively presented with style and humor. James also did a charming bit with a child from the audience, animating a piece of tissue paper, which he them made into a paper rose and levitated, and then transformed into a genuine rose.

“The Daredevil,” Jonathan Goodwin, is a bit different. Billed as “an accomplished knife thrower, archer, escape artist, fakir, martial artist, free diver, aerialist, and rock climber,” the program also notes that there are no illusions involved in his performance, “everything you see him do is very, very real.” In this show, Mr. Goodwin performed an archery act, showing his exceptional skill with the crossbow, being able to hit and split a sheet of newsprint edge on. That it took him two tries underscored the reality of the performance. The act culminated with bursting a balloon held on the head of his assistant while he was blindfolded. While real, I am pretty sure there is an inobvious but clever trick to the performance, which however, takes nothing away from the skill and nerve of Mr. Goodwin and his assistants.

Colin Cloud, “The Deductionist” does what used to be called a “mentalist” act, of the sort performed by Dunninger or Kreskin, but updated. Drawing on the popularity of the “Sherlock” TV series, he purports that at least some of his effects are obtained purely by observation and deduction. Although he shows an excellent grasp of how to manipulate audience members, and skill at some other tricks that Houdini and Scarne would have recognized, some of the others could not possibly have been accomplished by any deductive means—such as taking the product of three supposedly randomly selected three-digit numbers and coming up with 1875021417920, which broke down to the (alleged) number of people in the audience, the day’s date, and the hour and minute (9:20PM) of the pronouncement.

“The Manipulator,” An Ha Lim, has won numerous international prizes for his skills, and put on a beautiful performance in the first act, producing hundreds of cards seemingly out of thin air. (In magic parlance, “manipulations” refer to such things as single-handed card fans, “waterfalls,” palming, and substitution, which require great skill, dexterity, and strength.) He also ended the show with a very clever and amusing sequence of tabletop manipulations and substitutions, which we could easily see due to a hand-held camera and on-stage video screen.

One of the headlining acts of the show was “The Escapologist,” Andrew Basso, who performed the notorious “Water Torture Cell” escape, made famous by Houdini. While I have great respect for Mr. Basso’s nerve, skill, and endurance, I found the act somewhat disappointing, because it totally de-mystifies the famous trick. It is still very impressive—the “official” time for his escape was two minutes, thirty seconds, but in fact Basso was submerged longer than that, as the count didn’t start until the top of the cage was locked down, which meant he had to go more like three minutes and a half without breathing. Unfortunately, showing us how it is done downgrades the effect from an “illusion” to a stunt. Not that Houdini didn’t do stunts—escaping from a straitjacket while hanging upside down from a crane in full view has little mystery about it other than that it can be done at all—but I’m sorry to see one of the most famous effects in history lose its glamour.

All in all, we were very happy to have seen this show. The performances by James, Sperry, and Lim were worth the price of admission alone, and the others all showed great style, skill, nerve and cleverness worthy of admiration.
On Saturday, February 4th, we went to Café Grace, the new bistro-style French restaurant opened by the Bartolotta Group at the “Mayfair Collection” shopping center. We were quite pleased with the experience.

The restaurant is bright and spacious, with décor touches, such as the globular lamps, referring to the Belle Époque. We joked that the restaurant is bigger and roomier than any actual French restaurants we ate in in France.

I had decided to attempt to re-create our experiences in France as best I could, and began by ordering an aperitif, which I usually don’t do. I asked the waiter if the restaurant had Ricard, an anise flavored liquor that I had enjoyed. The waiter replied that they had both Ricard and Pernod. I was favorably impressed that he knew what both were, and ordered the Ricard. However, he then had to come back and report that they were out of Ricard, so I went with Pernod instead. I was a bit concerned when he asked how I wanted it, with ice or without, but told him water only. I was a bit surprised when the drink came back in a snifter glass like brandy, with the water already mixed in. Since Ricard is similar to absinthe, but without the “wormwood,” the proper way to serve it with the water on the side so you can mix it yourself. As it was, there wasn’t enough water in it, so I resorted to adding some from my water glass.

Things turned up from there. As starter, we had the Pate de Campagne, a slightly coarsely ground pate of pork, which we found very tasty and compared favorably with the similar house pate that we had had at Les Bacchantes in Paris.

For main course, Georgie had the Gigot d’Agneau, or leg of lamb, served with braised flageolet beans (I hadn’t know you could braise beans?) and roasted cauliflower. Georgie asked for it to be a bit more medium than the recommended medium rare, which was good, since she would not have wanted it more rare than it came. The slices of lamb were edged with traditional rosemary, something you seldom see these days, almost, but not quite, too much of it in this case. Georgie pronounced everything very good, but opined that the lamb, by Strauss, was not as flavorful as the lamb she had had in Rouen (which was probably a matter of terroir, or the feeding of it).

For my main dish, I ordered the Coquilles St. Jacques, (scallops) served with a chickpea cake (something that seems to be a signature item, as it is also on the starter menu), Swiss chard, golden raisins, and beef jus. The dish I had also had some root vegetable in it also, perhaps parsnips (?). The beef jus gave the vegetables a very nice flavor which made them the best part of the dish. The scallops were fine, typical sea scallops, but very fresh and perfectly pan-seared. Other than that, they were very plainly prepared. The chickpea cake is nothing to write home about. A rectangular hunk of fine textured white starch, a bit lighter than an equivalent quantity of potato, the only flavor it had of its own was along the browned exterior, although it was good when dredged in the jus, something the scallops also benefited from.

The wines were nice. Georgie had a French rosé, which had a bit more authority than the domestic rosés we drink more often. I had a very good French white, which went nicely with the scallops.
For dessert, we decided to sample the mousse au chocolat. My eyebrows raised a bit when the waiter brought us forks instead of the expected spoons. What then appeared was a rectangular piece of dark chocolaty material, generously garnished with crème fraiche and raspberries. It looked a lot more like flourless chocolate cake than conventional chocolate mousse, but had a lighter texture than the cake would have had. The flavor was quite rich and very good.

Despite the eccentricities, we had a very good and enjoyable meal. There are other items on the menu that interest us, so we will definitely eat there again.
On Sunday, January 22nd, we went to see Hidden Figures, the movie that tells the story of three black women who, each in their own way, contributed to the success of, first NASA’s Mercury program, and then later projects up to and including the Apollo moon landings. We found it to be very well done, and truly inspiring.

In those days, much of NASA’s engineering and support operations were based in Virginia, which, pre-Civil Rights acts, was unrepentantly segregated. (Not that Florida or Texas would necessarily have been any better--.) I found it really painful to see segregated drinking fountains, segregated bathrooms, segregated bus seats, and to see that all those things existed at NASA, which should have been one of the most forward-thinking workplaces in the world. Instead, NASA employs a group of black women as their own “computing” unit, set off in a separate building except for when on particular individual assignments.

Gradually, the wall begins to break down, as Katherine G. Johnson (Taraji P. Henson) gets assigned to the unit engaged in orbital calculations. Johnson was a mathematical prodigy as a child, and as an adult can perform calculations in her head that make the male engineers’ eyes bug out. Mary Jackson (Janelle Monáe) becomes NASA’s first black female engineer, and Dorothy Vaughan (Octavia Spencer) stakes a claim on the future by teaching herself Fortran and becoming an integral part of NASA’s new electronic computing division.

These events don’t necessarily happen smoothly, and a good part of the story deals with overcoming—or undermining, or working around—casual, institutional racism and sexism. Although racism is there—in one scene, someone anonymously brings in a separate coffee pot, labeled “colored” to the otherwise white office she is working in—I don’t believe I heard anyone at NASA say words to the effect of “black people can’t do that,” although, “women don’t do that” is a common theme.

The plot is interesting and engaging, especially to those of us for whom that history is also memory. I remember staying home from school to watch Mercury launches, and knew that it was a dangerous and daring thing at the time, but of course had no idea of how many people were required in how many ways to make it happen. The plot had drama, but wasn’t “juiced up”—I kept expecting one of the women to be menaced or roughed up, but that didn’t happen, although tension is there.
The Golden Globe award for best ensemble cast was well deserved. The three principal ladies were excellent, and very well supported by the rest of the cast.

I’m pleased and proud to report that my company, AT&T, along with other “tech” companies, is paying for school groups to see this inspirational and uplifting movie. Highly recommended.
As a nominal member of the old, white, male, ruling class, I hereby express my commiserations to my loved ones and friends who are female, gay or trans, people of color, non-Christian, poor, or immigrant, on your official demotion to second-class (or lower) citizens, if citizens at all. We are all the worse for it.

The United States has as always had a resilient, bitter core of anger, resentment, and fear which has now come to the surface.

In a nation made up of the children of immigrants, so many of us hate the outsider, while continuing to oppress and despise the true original inhabitants.
In a nation more than half women, so many of us assert that women aren’t fit to govern, and some, that they shouldn’t even vote.

In a nation where European-descended whites are a minority, we hang on to power with a death grip.
In the world’s most scientifically advanced nation, we assert that religion trumps science and is a legitimate basis to discriminate among people.

In the world’s richest nation, the number of poor grows daily, as does the wealth of the richest.
In the nation with the world’s most advanced medicine, people die daily for want of it.
In the world’s most agriculturally rich nation, children daily go hungry.

In a nation where, in 2008, the greed of bankers wiped out half the wealth on Earth, none of these bankers went to jail. They are richer than ever, and fighting to keep deregulated so they can continue as they are.

In a nation once supposedly dedicated to justice for all, we have elected a President and Congress who believe that all of the above are good things, and have the power to make them law.

Jesus said, "A house divided against itself cannot stand." Abraham Lincoln famously quoted him in 1858:which goes to show that what calls itself the Republican party these days, and claims to stand for the values of Jesus and Lincoln, does neither.
Trigger warning: Contains politics.

1.) So, Trump blatantly lied about the size of the inauguration crowd, and to CIA personnel to their faces about not having feuded with them. Not big deals in the scheme of things, perhaps, but what's going to happen when something really important comes up? "Alternative facts" really?

2.)First acts in office: "Trump also suspended a reduction in the premium rate offered by the Federal Housing Administration to home buyers. The reduction, relatively small, would have saved home buyers about $500 a year. In effect, this is a tax increase on the middle class." This was in with his first batch of executive orders, among trying clumsily to nobble ACA, and freezing regulatory activity. Who knew that raising insurance rates for middle-class home buyers was such a priority? Whose "goodie list" was this on? This is how it will be done. Big flashy things will distract the people, and in four years they will be wondering what happened to the money and the rights they used to have.

3.) Just listened to the President's Inaugural speech. Not as bad as I feared, but largely vague empty bombast. Full of expansive and impossible promises, with zero substance. One bright spot: we don't have to worry about the Apocalypse, according to Trump it's already happened--.

4.) Vladimir Putin may have managed the most Machiavellian manipulation in modern history. By stealing and leaking e-mails, he may have affected the outcome of the American election. By letting it be known he has done so, he has delegitimized and weakened the eventual winner he will be dealing with.

LA LA Land

Dec. 28th, 2016 05:31 pm
On Christmas Eve day, we went to the Oriental Theater to see LA LA Land, the new original musical movie starring Emma Stone and Ryan Gosling.

Ms. Stone, as aspiring actress Mia, plays a modern version of the old story of the young woman trying to break into movies (or television). In so doing, she has a series of more-or-less antagonistic encounters with pianist Sebastian (Mr. Gosling), who is a traditional jazz purist in a hip-hop world. After fate keeps bringing them together, they become interested in one another, and begin a relationship.

In the course of this relationship, they strike sparks off each other that result in significant changes to their lives: Sebastian takes a job with a band that doesn't quite play his kind of music in hopes that it will lead eventually to operating his own jazz club, and Mia takes to playwriting.

The story, by director Damien Chazelle, is engaging, and has some twists, including a bold ending, that take it out of the realm of cliché. The music, mostly by Justin Hurwitz, is pleasant, appropriate to the moods, and mostly forgettable. I did hear one person whistling "Mia and Sebastian's Theme," Sebastian's piano solo, but that's easiest to remember because it is reprised half a dozen times throughout the movie. The musical numbers are mostly fantasy interjections into reality, ranging from the kind of thing we always like to have happen (stalled drivers in a traffic jam getting out and dancing among the cars) to pure emotional interpretation (Seb and Mia's "dance among the stars" at Griffith Observatory). Several manage to grow organically out of the scene: leaving a party, Mia casually changes from her high heels into tap shoes, and she and Seb dance along the street.

The dancing is OK and fun, but not wonderful. There were a lot of quotes and references to famous dance numbers from past pictures (as there were in the sets, as well). Singing ditto, easy to listen to but not exciting. Of the two stars, Ms. Stone does most of the singing, in a high, rather breathy voice. It's only on her "big number," "The Fools Who Dream," that she opens up and sings with some real power.

One of the strongest parts of the film is actually the dialog. Seb has an excellent rant about what jazz is, which is followed later by his friend Keith (John Legend) challenging him, "How are you going to be a revolutionary if you're such a traditionalist? You hold on to the past, but jazz is about the future." Seb and Mia's big argument late in the film poses tough questions about life, goals, and intentions, before the inevitable degeneration into hurtfulness and resentment.

LA LA Land is a very enjoyable and intelligent updated homage to the Hollywood musical movies of the 1930's and 40's. If you care for that sort of thing, this is your cup of tea. If you have no experience of those films, you might still like it.
Last night's Presidential debate firmed up a thought that has been floating around my mind lately, to wit, that this contest is not just one of Republican versus Democrat, or conservative versus liberal, but also Dionysian versus Apollonian.

These are two aspects of human nature, according to the ancient Greeks. The Dionysian represented the wild, the undisciplined, the primal. The Apollonian represented the civilized, the logical, the refined.

Donald Trump embodies Dionysius (or, given his age and girth, Bacchus), with his lifestyle of the rich-and-famous, his roster of beautiful wives (and presumably beautiful mistresses), and his dedication to hedonism and display. As a real-estate developer, he concentrates on posh hotels, posh casinos, by-definition posh country clubs, and posh condominium towers. His "brands" include indulgent products like Trump Vodka, and Trump Steaks. (His alleged preference for his steaks as "burnt offerings" is another connection to the god--.)

Appropriately, his entire appeal is based on emotion: he appeals to inchoate wants, to greed, anger, and fear (Pan, the god who gives us the word "panic" is often associated with Dionysus). His attractiveness is based on his wealth, power, and lustiness.

On the other hand, Hillary Clinton is highly Apollonian in her approach. She appeals to logic, reason, and common sense. Perhaps, since she is a woman, we should say that Hillary is "Athenian," since Athena, Goddess of Wisdom, partakes of many of the same attributes of Apollo and is a warrior goddess (some of Hillary's non-fans fear that she would be too aggressive--.) . (Of course, Clinton also partakes of aspects of Hera, the put-upon wife of a roving husband. She had her own martial aspect: few recall that, in the Trojan War, when Athena took the field against Ares, Hera was her charioteer.)

As follower of Apollo/Athena, I naturally prefer Clinton, but I see Trump's appeal to the insecure and angry. I don't think last night's debate will change minds among the already committed, but hopefully might have made some difference among the so-far undecided.
I know, the title is weird sounding. But, what I hear too much of is people who can't stomach Donald Trump, but say they don't want to vote for Hillary Clinton, because she's so dreadful. The below is excepted from a lengthier Facebook post by a man named Michael Arnoviz, that debunks much of what you may think you know. I urge you to give it a fair reading.

'"In the course of a single conversation, I have been assured that Hillary is cunning and manipulative but also crass, clueless, and stunningly impolitic; that she is a hopelessly woolly-headed do-gooder and, at heart, a hardball litigator; that she is a base opportunist and a zealot convinced that God is on her side. What emerges is a cultural inventory of villainy rather than a plausible depiction of an actual person." -Henry Louis Gates The quote above comes from a fascinating article called "Hating Hillary", written by Gates for the New Yorker in 1996. Even now, 20 years after it was first published, it's a fascinating and impressive piece, and if you have a few spare moments I strongly recommend it to you. (www.newyorker.com/...<http://l.facebook.com/l.php?u=http%3a%2f%2fwww.newyorker.com%2fmagazine%2f1996%2f02%2f26%2fhating-hillary&h=iaqg_ok8h&enc=azmtuokhixlnsyne1fw3yvlkfxkthrmtgl-usorwh8r2c8llvf1vnkcdvbhb2fn9rfalg7-089u3gkcrt4jzuejbbog3jhzpvdo_utwghdocincmtitvajky2l5snz7ae4suw3jwlphrtw72ijqtksiy&s=1>)

To conservatives she is a radical left-wing insurgent who has on multiple occasions been compared to Mikhail Suslov, the Soviet Kremlin's long-time Chief of Ideology. To many progressives (you know who you are), she is a Republican fox in Democratic sheep's clothing, a shill for Wall Street who doesn't give a damn about the working class. The fact that these views could not possibly apply to the same person does not seem to give either side pause. Hillary haters on the right and the left seem perfectly happy to maintain their mutually incompatible delusions about why she is awful. The only thing both teams seem to share is the insistence that Hillary is a Machiavellian conspirator and implacable liar, unworthy of society's trust.

So let's look at the issues people are currently using to disparage Clinton. Let's consider the issues of dishonesty, scandals, money and Wall Street.

1) Honesty - In terms of honesty, I've already addressed that. Hillary is a politician, and like all politicians she is no stranger to "massaging" and/or exaggerating the truth. And yes on occasion she will let loose a whopper. But is she worse than other politicians?

Politifact, the Pulitzer prize-winning fact-checking project, determined for example that Hillary was actually the most truthful candidate (of either Party) in the 2016 election season. And in general Politifact has determined that Hillary is more honest than most (but not all) politicians they have tracked over the years.

In January of 1996, while Whitewater investigations were underway but unfinished, conservative writer William Safire wrote a scathing and now-famous essay about Hillary Clinton entitled, "Blizzard of Lies". In the piece he called her a "congenital liar", and accused her of forcing her friends and subordinates into a "web of deceit". He insisted (without any apparent evidence) that she took bribes, evaded taxes, forced her own attorneys to perjure themselves, "bamboozled" bank regulators, and was actively involved in criminal enterprises that defrauded the government of millions of dollars. He ended the piece by stating that, "She had good reasons to lie; she is in the longtime habit of lying; and she has never been called to account for lying herself or in suborning lying in her aides and friends."

I am no political historian, but as far as I can tell this short essay was the birth of the "Hillary is a Liar" meme. Now to be clear, most conservatives already strongly disliked her. They had been upset with her for some time because she had refused to play the traditional First Lady role. And they were horrified by her attempt to champion Universal Health coverage. But if you look for the actual reasons people didn't like her back at that time, you won't see ongoing accusations of her being "crooked" or a "liar". Instead, the most common opinion seemed to be that she was a self-righteous leftist who considered anyone with other views to be morally inferior. In short, the prevailing anti-Hillary accusation was not that she was unrelentingly dishonest, but that she was just intolerably smug.

After the Safire piece however, this all changed. Republicans, who learned from Nixon never to let a good propaganda opportunity pass if they could help it, repeated the accusations of mendacity non-stop to anyone who would broadcast or print them. And if you doubt the staying power of Safire's piece, type the phrase "congenital liar" into a Google search along with "Hillary Clinton" and see what happens. To this day, that exact phrase is still proudly used by many on the right. This, even though Safire was eventually proven wrong about everything he had written. And despite the fact that he stated himself that he would have to "eat crow" if she were ever cleared, Safire never apologized or even acknowledged his many errors once that happened. Because as we all know, swift-boating means never having to say you're sorry.

The evidence suggests that she is no worse, and actually better, than most other politicians. Internet videos like the "13 minutes of Hillary lying" appear to be mostly examples of Hillary changing her position over several decades, combined with annoying but typical political behavior. But similar videos of Donald Trump exist showing him doing an even more extreme version of the same thing. Why is he not being accused of this type of mendacity? In fact there is very little dispute that Trump has been SIGNIFICANTLY less honest on the campaign trail than Hillary. According to Politifact he is in fact the least honest candidate they've ever analyzed! So if the issue of honesty is really that important, why are so many people (on the right and left) holding Hillary to such an obviously different standard than Trump?

2) Scandals - Webster's dictionary defines a scandal as, "an occurrence in which people are shocked and upset because of behavior that is morally or legally wrong." But here's a question: Are scandals still scandals if nobody actually did anything wrong? And I think that's a fair question, because Hillary's political foes love to point out all the times she has been implicated (directly or indirectly) in scandals. Not surprisingly, however, they fail to point out that she has always been cleared of any wrongdoing.

So if she's always innocent, why then does she find herself caught up in so many scandals? For that answer, perhaps we should look at the Wikipedia definition of scandal, which states, "A scandal can be broadly defined as an accusation or accusations that receive wide exposure. Generally there is a negative effect on the credibility of the person or organization involved." Notice the important difference? Perhaps the "negative effect on credibility" is not so much the RESULT of these scandals as it is the INTENT of those who create them.

Did you know that Republicans once spent 10 days and 140 hours investigating the Clinton's use of the White House Christmas Card list? Because that is a real thing that actually happened. As the Atlantic recently pointed out, "No other American politicians-even ones as corrupt as Richard Nixon, or as hated by partisans as George W. Bush-have fostered the creation of a permanent multimillion-dollar cottage industry devoted to attacking them." (And for an impressive presentation of this issue I highly recommend Hanna Rosin's piece "Among the Hillary Haters", also in the Atlantic.)

Compare for example the treatment Hillary is getting due to her private email "scandal" to that of General David Petraeus. Hillary has been accused of hosting a personal email server that "might" have made classified documents less secure, even though the documents in question were not classified as secret at the time she received and/or sent them. (Side note: some government documents receive secret classifications "at birth", while other can be retroactively classified as secret.) In order for Clinton to have committed a criminal act, she would have had to knowingly and willfully mishandle material that was classified at the time she did so. After months of investigation no one has accused her of doing that, and it doesn't appear as if anyone will.

General Petraeus on the other hand, while he was Director of the CIA, knowingly gave a journalist, who was also his mistress, a series of black books which according to the Justice Department contained, "classified information regarding the identities of covert officers, war strategy, intelligence capabilities and mechanisms, diplomatic discussions quotes and deliberative discussions from high level National Security Council meetings and [Petraeus'] discussions with the president of the United States of America." Petraeus followed that up by lying to numerous government officials, including FBI agents, about what he had done. And let's not forget that according to the Uniform Code of Military Justice, adultery is itself a court-martial offense. And I remind you that none of this is in dispute. Petraeus admitted to all of it.

Petraeus' violations were significantly more egregious than anything Clinton is even remotely accused of. And yet Republicans and other Hillary foes are howling about her issue, wearing "Hillary for Prison 2016" t-shirts while insisting that this disqualifies her from public office. Meanwhile even after pleading guilty to his crimes Petraeus continued to be the recipient of fawning sentiments from conservatives. Senator John McCain stated that, "All of us in life make mistakes and the situation now, I hope, can be put behind him..." Politico quoted a former military officer who worked with Petraeus as calling the entire situation "silly". Prominent Republicans have already made it clear that they would call him back to work in the highest levels of government if they win the Presidency. And some are still attempting to convince him to seek the Presidency himself.

Why is Hillary Clinton being held to such an obviously different standard than Petraeus? Is it really only politics?

3) Money - OK let's talk about her money. Hillary has a lot of it. And she has earned most of it through well-paid speaking fees. And the idea of getting paid $200,000 or more for a single speech seems so ludicrous to many people that they assume that it simply must be some form of bribery. But the truth is that there is a large, well-established and extremely lucrative industry for speaking and appearance fees. And within that industry many celebrities, sports stars, business leaders and former politicians get paid very well. At her most popular for example, Paris Hilton was being paid as much as $750,000 just to make an appearance. Kylie Jenner was once paid over $100,000 to go to her own birthday party, and to this day Vanilla Ice gets $15,000 simply to show up with his hat turned sideways.

And let's talk about the more cerebral cousin of the appearance agreement, which is the speaking engagement. Is $200k really that unusual? In fact "All American Speakers", the agency that represents Clinton, currently represents 135 people whose MINIMUM speaking fee is $200,000. Some of the luminaries that get paid this much include: Guy Fieri, Ang Lee, Carla Delevingne, Chelsea Handler, Elon Musk, Mehmet Oz, Michael Phelps, Nate Berkus, and "Larry the Cable Guy". And no that last one is not a joke. And if you drop the speaking fee to $100k, the number of people they represent jumps to over 500. At $50,000 the number jumps to over 1,200. And All American Speakers are obviously not the only agency that represents speakers. So there are in fact thousands of people getting paid this kind of money to give a speech.

For millions of Americans struggling to pay their bills, the very idea that someone can make $100,000 or more for just giving a speech or hanging out at a Vegas nightclub is obscene. But as Richard Nixon used to say, "don't hate the player, hate the game." Hillary didn't invent the speaking engagement industry, and she isn't anywhere near the first person to make a lot of money from it. And while her fees are in the upper range of what speakers make, neither they nor the total amount of money she has made are unusual. It's just unusual FOR A WOMAN.

And yes, I'm back on that, because I feel compelled to point out that before he ran for President in 2007, Rudy Giuliani was making about $700,000 a month in speaking fees with an average of $270k per speech. It's estimated that in the 5 years before his run he earned as much as $40 million in speaking fees. Nobody cared, no accusations of impropriety were made, and there was almost no media interest. So why did Giuliani get a pass, while Hillary stands accused of inherent corruption for making less money doing the same thing?

And speaking of corruption, after leaving the Florida governor's office Jeb Bush made millions of dollars in paid speeches. This includes large sums he collected from a South Korean metals company that reaped over a BILLION dollars in contracts from his brother's presidential administration. Speaking to an Indian newspaper about this type of thing Bush said, "This is the life of being the brother of the president." Do you remember reading all about that while Jeb was running for President? I didn't think so. Jeb got a pass too.

So if this discussion is really about money in politics that's fine. But I'm going to need someone to explain to me why we only seem to focus on it when the person making the money has a vagina.

4) Wall Street - First things first. No, the majority of the money Clinton has made from speaking fees did not come from Wall Street. In fact it's not even close. She has given nearly 100 paid speeches since leaving the State Dept., and only 8 were to "Wall Street" banks. Nearly all of her speeches were to organizations like American Camping Association, EBay, Cisco, Xerox, Cardiovascular Research Foundation, United Fresh Produce Association, International Deli-Dairy-Bakery Association, California Medical Association, A&E Television Networks, Massachusetts Conference for Women, U.S. Green Building Council, National Association of Realtors, American Society of Travel Agents, Gap, National Association of Convenience Stores, the National Association of Chain Drug Stores, Institute of Scrap Recycling Industries, etc.

Corporations and Associations pay large fees for important speakers all of the time. And Hillary got booked fairly often because she is interesting and popular, and because there's a great deal of status attached to having her speak at an event. Ignoring all of this however, a large contingent of anti-Hillary people continue to insist that all speaker's fees from Wall Street banks were bribes, and that because of this they "own" her. But by that logic shouldn't we all be asking what the fuck the American Camping Association is up to?

Also, with the possible exception of one speech given to Deutsche Bank, all of Hillary's 8 speeches to Wall Street were for a speaking fee of $225,000. That does not even break the top 20 of her highest paid speeches. For example she received over $275,000 each in three speeches she gave to The Vancouver Board of Trade, the Board of Trade of Metropolitan Montreal, and Canada 2020. So apparently Canadians also "own" her. And I don't know what those nefarious Canadians are up to, but it probably has something to do with goddamn poutine. Which would really piss me off except I just remembered that I kind of like poutine so never mind.


And again: why is Hillary being held to a standard that never appears to be applied to her male counterparts? Am I not supposed to notice that a media frenzy has been aimed at Hillary Clinton for accepting speaking fees of $225,000 while Donald Trump has been paid $1.5 MILLION on numerous occasions with hardly a word said about it? Am I supposed to not notice that we are now in an election season in which Donald Trump, a proud scam artist whose involvement in "Trump University" alone is being defined by the New York Attorney General as "straight-up fraud", is regularly calling Hillary Clinton "Crooked Hillary" and getting away with it?

What the actual fuck is going on here? What's going on is what we all know, but mostly don't want to admit: presidential campaigns favor men, and the men who campaign in them are rewarded for those traits perceived as being "manly" - physical size, charisma, forceful personality, assertiveness, boldness and volume. Women who evince those same traits however are usually punished rather than rewarded, and a lot of the negativity aimed at Hillary over the years, especially when she is seeking office, has been due to these underlying biases. There is simply no question that Hillary has for years been on the business end of an unrelenting double standard. And her battle with societal sexism isn't going to stop because of her success anymore than Obama's battle with racism stopped once he was elected. These are generational issues, and we are who we are.

And actually, this only makes her victory all the more amazing. And maybe it's OK if we pause for a moment from the accusations and paranoia and just acknowledge her enormous accomplishments. In the entire history of our nation, only 6 Presidents have also served as Secretary of State. Only 3 have served both as Secretary of State and in Congress. By any objective measure Hillary Clinton is not just the most qualified candidate this season, she's one of the most qualified people to ever seek the office. The New York Times in endorsing her stated that, "voters have the chance to choose one of the most broadly and deeply qualified presidential candidates in history." Jonathan Bernstein at Bloomberg stated that, "she is probably the best qualified presidential candidate ever." Even Marco Rubio, one-time choice of the GOP establishment (and tea-party love-child) stated in a Republican debate that, "If this is a resume contest, Hillary Clinton is going to be the new President of the United States."

Hillary is nobody's idea of perfect. Fine. But in my view if a man with her qualifications were running in the Democratic primary, Bernie would have been done before he even started. And if a man with her qualifications had been running for the Republicans, they'd be anointing him the next Reagan while trying to sneak his face onto Mount Rushmore.'
My great concern about Donald Trump is not so much his general loose-cannon attitude, which is bad enough. What seriously worries me is his lack of actual policy thought, which conflicts with his say-whatever-he-thinks-will-win approach. His personal platform is that it would be good to be President, and that's where it ends.

So, while Trump is out cutting ribbons and trying to bully foreign leaders, the country will be run by "Tea Party" Pence, and a probable Republican Congress lead by Paul Ryan. All they need to do is the minimum necessary to stroke Trump's ego, and they can ramrod through the entirety of the hideously regressive Republican Party platform. Just look at what Ryan has been proposing for budgets for the past few terms and you will see what we will be getting.

Sure, the Congress will pass a law authorizing Trump's Wall. Then, they spend the next four years arguing about how to fund it (assuming cooler heads prevail and Congress doesn't actually want to initiate an economic war with Mexico by expropriating Mexican assets or something staggeringly stupid like that).

Meanwhile, The Duce-er, The Donald-will happily sign all the legislation Ryan and co. send him, which will essentially turn the clock back to 1890. The Affordable Care Act will be repealed and replaced with nothing. Medicare will get privatized and replaced with a clumsy and ineffective voucher system. Social Security will get privatized and turned over to the same geniuses that brought us the crash of 2008, so that they can suck off a cut of the trust funds. Any attempts at campaign finance reform will be dead.

The National Labor Relations Board and unions generally will be on the chopping block. You can expect a national "right to work" law and other actions intent on destroying worker's rights and workplace protections. Any consumer protections like Dodd-Frank or the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau will be scrapped.
Women's rights, LGBT rights, any kind of minority protections will go right down the tubes. Inequality will be sanctified and enshrined as the "American Way." Essentially, by the end of a Trump term, the only people who will legally matter will be well-off white, Protestant, straight males who are native-born citizens. Even though technically I fit into this demographic, I find these aims "deplorable."

We can expect the EPA and the Departments of Energy and Education to be neutered if not dismantled entirely. The first two are consistent with the return to "Robber Baron" days, when a man could do what he liked with his property and hang the consequences, and any neighbors without money enough to bring a private lawsuit could go hang, too.

Social conservatives have been waging war on public schools ever since school prayer was banned, and taking down any attempts to have national educational standards will accelerate the further degradation of public school systems and funneling money into private or religious schools that are free to teach backward doctrines like "creation science," abstinence-only sexual education (if any at all--), and the supremacy of the white race*. Publicly funded universities will essentially become technical schools that produce no inconvenient research. NASA and other government agencies that report unwanted findings about climate change, pollution, bad drugs, or you name it, will be muzzled, censored, or defunded.

So, if there is a Trump presidency, we will have the Republican idea of "small government"-which means that teachers, doctors, scientists, regulators, and social programs will go by the board, while the military, spies, and police have all the money they could wish for.

This is not making America great again, unless your idea of great was Grover Cleveland's second term (1893-1897). This is not the America we live in now, nor, I think, is it the America we want for the future.

(* The myopically racist books of 19th Century historical novelist G.A. Henty, author of With Lee in Virginia, among others, are recommended by, and, not coincidentally, kept in print and for sale by conservative home-schooling advocates.)

On Sunday, August 28, we went to American Players Theatre near Spring Green for a “double-header” of Shakespeare’s “King Lear,” and “Arcadia,” by Tom Stoppard.

APT’s new production of “King Lear” featured Jonathan Smoots in the title role, and was done modern dress, with some current-era props and effects. Lear’s division of his kingdom is done as an outdoor press-conference, complete with podium and visual aids. Lear’s elder daughters, Goneril (Laura Rook) and Regan (Kelsey Brennan) show up in sleek and stylish outfits modeled on some worn by current real-world princesses. Cordelia (Melisa Pereya), on the other hand, is more girlish and nerdy, a presentation that suits her earnest character.

In this scene, we also meet the Duke of Gloucester (James Ridge), the Duchess of Kent (Greta Oglesby), and Gloucester’s illegitimate son, Edmund (Marcus Truschinski), all of whom will have a sizable role to play in the drama to come.

I did not think the modern setting worked for Lear as well as for some other Shakespeare plays, and in some ways clunked, notably the fight scenes. In an era where assault rifles are common, hand-to-hand combat often takes a back seat for logical reasons. It’s not very credible when unarmed Edgar (Eric Parks), who’s been living rough as “Poor Tom” and who has been portrayed as a playboy rather than a fighter, takes down Goneril’s messenger Oswald (Christopher Sheard), who’s already covering him with a pistol. When Edgar challenges Edmund, their “duel” is a bare-handed wrestling match, unlikely even if portrayed in the mythic Britain of Shakespeare. Giving soldiers modern assault gear and weapons somehow made them more menacing than if they had been outfitted with mail and swords.

On the other hand, some of the role gender-shifting made more feasible by the modern setting worked well. When Kent (Oglesby) is banished by Lear, she renders herself unrecognizable by assuming the clothes, manners, and accent of a working-class black woman. Cristina Panfilio gives the role of Lear’s Fool a female stand-up comedian vibe, and does her songs in an indie-folk style that works well.

While a fine, solid, and affecting performance, I wasn’t totally satisfied with Smoots’ Lear. Lear starts the play as an aged, but vigorous man, and, through the course of events, becomes more aged both physically and mentally, such that, by the end, he dies through a combination of exhaustion and lack of a will to live. We really didn’t see that in this performance, as Lear blusters on nearly unstoppably until the final scene.

The character who really goes through the wringer in this production is Ridge’s Gloucester, who goes from a strong and confident character to a broken man after his blinding. Truschinski, playing a relatively rare villain role, was believable as a man capable of fooling his father and seducing both Goneril and Regan.  Kudos, too, to Ms. Rook and Ms. Brennan who succeeded in giving Goneril and Regan distinctive characters, instead of making them just the two “ugly sisters.” Brennan’s Regan is a wheedler, free with fake smiles and hugs. She makes a good consort for her thuggish husband, Cornwall (Bobby Bowman), whereas Ms. Rook as Goneril freely lets her claws show, compensating for what she sees as the conscience-ridden weakness of her husband, Albany (Cedric Mays).

I didn’t mind the modern costuming—after a while I pretty much ignored it, although there were a couple of inexplicable choices: Although all the other soldiers are in modern dress, including the Duke of Albany, Edmund, as leader of Cornwall’s forces, wears a 19th Century general’s uniform, apparently only so he can have a sword that is used later. Regan, in her last appearance, is given an outfit that is more suited for clubbing at a particularly louche nightspot, rather than visiting a battlefield. Odd.

“Arcadia”

We were glad to see that APT was doing Tom Stoppard’s “Arcadia,” which is a favorite of ours. It is a dauntingly intricate play, not only to stage, with its intersecting character sets from 1809 and the “present day,” but intellectually and linguistically as well.  The director’s notes remark that the play includes: “Lord Byron, Sir Issac Newton, love, the Second law of Thermodynamics, grouse, Chaos Theory, the history of landscape gardening, Time’s Arrow, fractals and iterated algorithms, and the Classical and Romantic temperaments. It is a detective story and a story of the ecstatic hunger of wanting to know, well, everything.”

The play in 1809 focuses on Thomasina Coverly (Rebecca Hurd), a mathematically gifted young girl, and her tutor, Septimus Hodge (Nate Burger). Thomasina is on the verge of mathematical breakthroughs that won’t be rediscovered for 150 years or more. Hodge, on the other hand, is on the verge of being embroiled in a duel over the easy virtue of the wife of his friend, Ezra Chater (Casey Hoekstra).

In the modern day, the Coverly’s stately home has become a sort of informal research center: Valentine Coverly (Steve Haggard), computer scientist, is attempting to codify the estate’s game books in order to derive an algorithm for the breeding cycles of grouse; Hannah Jarvis (Colleen Madden), a writer, is researching the transformation of the estate’s Classical 18th Century landscaping into a 19th Century Romantic design; and egotistical academic Bernard Nightingale (Jim DeVita) descends upon the property in hot pursuit of some possible unknown history of Lord Byron.

The braided stories intertwine fascinatingly. In the 19th Century, we gradually see what actually happened play out, while in the 20th, we see how even the most well-meaning research can take itself down wrong paths.

All of the cast members were absolutely fine, and handled the difficult text with perfect clarity and exquisite timing. Not only is it intellectually challenging, it’s laugh-out-loud funny (and even funnier if you get all the references).

Georgie and I just came back from seeing it. We loved it. It is one of the most beautiful movies I have seen. The stop-motion animation is simply amazing and rivals any CGI. The story is original, magical, and fantastic. The ending is redemptive. The movie starts, "If you need to blink, do it now--."

As opposed to the “problem with Trump,” which is a separate set of issues--. Donald Trump’s problem is that he is spoiled. He is a big, spoiled, brat.  He is used to, with some justice, feeling invulnerable. For decades, he has been an absolute boss, with no one to supervise or gainsay him.  His years of “reality” TV have gotten him used to the idea that the more outrageous you are, the better, and the more applause you get.  Such filters as he has have totally corroded, to the point that he blurts out any half-formed phase that makes its way to his speech centers. He is, as George Orwell describes, a “double-plus good duckspeaker.” In 1984, Part 1, Chapter 5, page 46-47 he says:

‘...Winston turned a little sideways in his chair to drink his mug of coffee. At the table on his left the man with the strident voice was still talking remorselessly away....He held some important post in the FICTION DEPARTMENT....It was just a noise, a quack-quack-quacking....Every word of it was pure orthodoxy, pure Ingsoc....Winston had a curious feeling that this was not a real human being but some kind of dummy. It was not the man's brain that was speaking, it was his larynx. The stuff that was coming out of him consisted of words, but it was not speech in the true sense: it was noise uttered in unconsciousness, like the quacking of a duck.

Syme had fallen silent for a moment, and with the handle of his spoon was tracing patterns in the puddle of stew. The voice from the other table quacked rapidly on, easily audible in spite of the surrounding din.

"There is a word in Newspeak" said Syme, "I don't know whether you know it: duckspeak, to quack like a duck. It is one of those interesting words that have two contradictory meanings. Applied to an opponent, it is abuse: applied to someone you agree with, it is praise.”’

We went to the Milwaukee Art Museum Saturday, August 6th to see the current shows.

In particular, we went to see “From Rembrandt to Parmigiano: Old Masters from Private Collections.”  As it is described, the paintings and drawings in this exhibition are on loan from private owners, and not normally on public display.  The exhibit consists of fifty-one paintings and drawings lent by a number of collectors in the Upper Midwest, lead by local philanthropist Alfred Bader, who has just donated two additional significant pieces of 17th Century art to the Museum.

Of particular interest were the first two rooms, which concerned “history painting,”  a major genre of the 16-1700’s, which includes the depiction of Biblical and mythological scenes as well as purely historical. These included works by one of Rembrandt’s teachers, Pieter Lastman; van Rijn himself; and van Rijn’s studio-mate and colleague, Jan Lievens.  There were also some interesting examples of paintings “attributed to” Rembrandt, or assigned to the “circle of Rembrandt,” which means probably painted by one of Rembrandt’s assistants/students.

The exhibit very interestingly shows the evolution of new painting styles that evolved during this period, including the still-life, landscape painting, and portraiture.  Interestingly, the Protestant Reformation may have had a very significant effect on the world of art. Since Dutch Protestant painters no longer had the Catholic Church to rely on as patron, they had to find subjects that would appeal to new potential customers, mainly the moneyed burghers of the Netherlands.

The later period rooms, which include more Italian artists, also show evolution of styles, such as the deliberate distortion of figure proportion used by Parmigiano in some of his paintings, and other departures from naturalistic depiction, such as the very marked chiaroscuro used in the Mannerist style.

This was a fascinating exhibit, and we were very glad to have seen it.

The other exhibition we particularly went to see was “Corot, Daubigny, Millet: Visions of France,” which consisted of a collection of forty-one prints from the museum’s collection. These were done in an early sort of photo-etching technique called cliché-verre, or “glass negative.” In this technique, a glass plate was coated with ink, and then the ink removed to create an image. The plate was then placed on photographic paper and exposed to make a contact print.  This was a very quick and simple printing process, and some artists used it as a sketching medium or to preserve quick drawings.

This exhibit is taken from a collected set of prints by the artists  Jean-Baptist Camille Corot, Charles-Francois Daubigny, and Jean-Francois Millet, all members of the “Barbizon School”, which preferred naturalism over romanticized subjects. The set, collected by art dealer Maurice Le Garrec in 1921, consists of rural scenes of France.  The very simplicity of the medium brings the personal approaches of the artists into sharp contrast.  Although all were famed landscape artists capable of very finely finished works, Corot’s prints are extremely sketchy, as though making memoranda for later. On the other hand, Daubigny’s prints are much more finished works, good enough looking to be displayed like woodcuts or etchings.

The big exhibit going on at the Museum currently is “American Epics: Thomas Hart Benton and Hollywood.”  Benton was a 20th Century American painter and muralist associated with the Regionalist movement. The exhibit focuses on his visit to Hollywood in 1938, in which he was commissioned to create a series of paintings about the movie industry. Given broad access, he drew many sketches, some of which were eventually amplified into full-sized paintings. Many of the sketches and intermediate treatments are on display, as well as paintings from the series. The exhibit also includes a number of paintings from a series dealing with the early American Indian Wars, and other subjects.

Benton’s paintings are big, bold, and dynamic, with sharp contrasts of dark and light (rather like a modern version of the Mannerist paintings we had seen upstairs).  The figures all tend to have heroic proportions,  in a fashion I associate with WPA murals or Communist Propaganda, but without the typical sharp-edged drafting.  Benton’s figures tend to be very blobby, for lack of a better term. His tempera painting is two-dimensional with large areas of flat color, which gives the impression that the figures were molded out of clay and then squashed onto the canvas with a rolling pin.

Historically, Benton did some very significant pieces, among them The Year of Peril, begun in 1941, which warned of the dangers of Fascism and Nazism with nightmarish images which both harked back to the propaganda posters of World War I, and pointed the way for those that would come in World War II. However, Georgie and I both agreed that Mr. Benton’s artwork was not to our taste, however significant.

After looking at the exhibits, we had lunch at the Café Calatrava, the small restaurant in the Museum. Informal, it is located on the lower level of the Calatrava Wing, and has an unrestricted view of the lake. The menu is not large, but offered a good range of choices.  I had the Roasted Hanger Steak, accompanied by a salad of Romanesco, arugula, and parmigiano, with an aged balsamic dressing, that was very good. Georgie had whitefish, which was also very nice. Service was fast and friendly. We would definitely eat there again.

 

On Sunday afternoon, July 31st, we went to the festival grounds on the lakefront for German Fest. We hadn’t been to a German Fest for several years and wanted to get back to it.

We had a good time walking around the grounds and sampling music on a lovely afternoon. There was a good turnout, but the grounds were not packed like it would have been for Summerfest or Irish Fest.

Among the groups we listened to was Alpensterne, a quartet from Minnesota, who performs traditional tunes to a rock beat, with some of the fastest yodeling we have ever heard. They put on a very lively, fun show that had a lot of the audience members up and dancing.

The Donau Schwaben youth dance group put on a charming display of traditional dancing, most of which were couples dances. The group had four young men and six young women, an unusually good proportion for folk groups, which tend to be female-heavy. (Although it must be said that only one of the young men appeared to be enjoying himself: the others expressions ranged from Solemn Duty to Grim Death--.)

(A semi-serious tip for young men seeking to make friends with nice young women: seek out an ethnic dance group you can reasonably express interest in. You don’t necessarily have to be that ethnicity, and knowing the language isn’t required. All you need to do is to be willing to learn to dance. You will be outnumbered by young women who are typically healthy, in good shape, care about their appearances, and likely have nice, old-fashioned values. The enterprising young gentleman should be able to take it from there--.)

Another group was the Pommersche Spaldeel Freistadt, a community cultural group from Freistad, Wisconsin, which has a long tradition of preserving its ethnic Pomeranian culture. (Pomerania is a region that makes up Northeastern Germany, including the city of Gdansk, and Northwestern Poland. Ethnically and linguistically the people are Germanic. Since great-great grandfather Otto emigrate to America from Gdansk/Danzig as was, I had thought there was a chance that we were Pomeranian. However, having checked the Festival’s name lists in the past, the name Rihn only shows up as Prussian.)

Unusually for an ethnic festival, I had difficulty getting something to eat for dinner, not because there wasn’t anything, but due to timing. I had wanted spanferkel (spit-roasted pork), which I am particularly fond of, but found they were out, and the next pig wasn’t due off the spit for two hours. Mader’s German Restaurant had a tent with sit-down service and a good looking menu, but almost the moment we sat down, we were blasted out of the tent by a German brass band playing at parade volume ten feet away. I finally got a nice kassler ripchen at one of the volunteer-staffed booths. Georgie had a very good Wiener schnitzel from another booth.

We had a good look at the vendors, and Georgie found a nice ring set with three colors of amber, which was nicely priced so we bought it. We had a very pleasant time, and were glad we had gone.

One thing that struck me is how different the various ethnic fests are in character. Irish Fest, which we always go to, is very large, the largest Irish Music festival anywhere in the world. Most of the performers that take part these days are professionals (depending on how you count the various Irish Dance schools). Music is mostly traditional, although groups like Gaelic Storm are quite modern, and sung in English, a good thing in my opinion, since I don’t find Gaelic a very pretty language to listen to. The spirit is pretty much always jolly fun, what the Irish call craic. Quite often a significant number of the performers are not local and some from Ireland or other countries.

German Fest, on the other hand, is more earnest fun. There are more amateur groups represented, music is mostly traditional, and mostly sung in German. Most of the performers are relatively local, although there’s usually some group from Germany like a children’s choir or church choir. Dance groups tend to be community groups: if there’s a school of German dance out there I haven’t heard of it.

After having been to Irish Fest, I excitedly went to an early Festa Italiana, looking forward to finding out a lot about Italian folk music. I was surprised therefore, to find out that the ideal Festa performer would have been Tony Bennett or Dean Martin, had they been able to get them. (Bennett may actually have been here since--.) So, most of the music was basically “lounge” music, with a smattering of opera. The one group from Italy I recall was a Sicilian brass band. The major attractions were Italian food (good, but I can get that any time) and the still outstanding fireworks display, which one can see perfectly well for free from outside the grounds, so I haven’t been back for a long while. (Looking up this year's entertainment schedule for Festa, that's still pretty much what it's like: Joe Scalissi: Dean Martin Tribute; Doo Wop Daddies; John Micheal Coppola and the Four C-Notes (UW Marching Band 5th Quarter Performance??).)
On Saturday, July 30th, we attended the Milwaukee Dragon Boat Festival, held at the Veteran’s Park Lagoon on the lakefront. This annual event is organized by the Milwaukee Chinese Community Center. When we got there, we were immediately impressed by how many people had turned out. We found that there were more than forty teams taking part. Since a standard Dragon Boat requires a crew of twenty rowers, plus coxswain and drummer, that meant that there were more than 800 racers, plus supporters and festival volunteers taking part, not to mention unaffiliated spectators like ourselves.

I was rather surprised to see that there IS such a thing as a standard Dragon Boat, but there is. They resemble modern canoes in construction, wide enough to seat two paddlers abreast. The paddlers use a specialized paddle, similar to a canoe paddle, which evokes the boat’s probable ancestry as something like the Polynesian “war canoe,” but without outriggers. The boat comes to a point at either end. The steersman stands at the stern, steering with an oar, and the drummer perches on an elevated stool in the bow facing the paddlers. The boats come with small detachable decorative dragon heads and tails that are attached for racing.

The festivities officially began with Opening Ceremonies at 10:30AM, with introductions of dignitaries, including the Chinese Consul up from Chicago. There was a traditional Dragon Dance, preceded by the ritual “Wakening of the Dragon,” in which case the pupils of the eyes of the dragon puppet were drawn in. For this dragon dance, the performers held the puppet aloft on poles, and wove it intricately around and about with motions that reminded me of a drill team.

This was followed by music and dance performances of a number of different traditions and styles, martial arts demonstrations, and a fashion show of the famous Chinese dress style, the qipao (also known as cheongsam, or sometimes “Mandarin dress.”)

Many of Milwaukee’s large companies have gone all in sponsoring boats. Harley-Davidsan had four boats, Miller Coors two, Northwestern Mutual three, and Rockwell Automation a croggling eleven boats!

Heats had been going on since 8:00 that morning, since Dragon Boat racing is a bit like horse racing, in that an individual race doesn’t last long, and there’s a bit of reshuffling time between heats. In the interims, there was a small number of vendors to browse, and a number of alternative food sellers. We got teriyaki chicken on skewers for lunch, which Georgie found too salty, but I thought was OK.

We didn’t stay until the championship races, which happened at 4:00PM—a long day of racing for some participants! It’s hard to tell from the web site if there was an overall winner, but the fastest time of the day was one minute, 19.78 seconds, by Arashi-Pilot Freight Services, in the Diamond Championship Final Race.
Continuing my recent tradition of dissecting SF and fantasy films deviations from logic and common sense, I see no reason to spare Star Trek Beyond, although it’s less bad than some. Accepting that the Star Trek Universe is a science-fantasy one, though a step removed from outright pulp like Star Wars, I gloss over questions like how does it happen that Krall’s swarming drones happen to be warp-capable, and just what powers them? And, OK, Krall’s mad, so that excuses why he didn’t use the alien tech to escape the planet years ago, or use the fabbing equipment to build a regular starship instead of a swarm of drones that vastly outmasses the Enterprise. The alien bio-weapon doesn’t seem to work in any sensible fashion, but then, the aliens attempted to get rid of it because it was too dangerous--.

On the logic front, there is the question of why didn’t Kirk have the shields up approaching the unknown planet? They had to have been up getting through the rock-crushing debris fields of the nebula, so why turn them off?

On the tech front, the first appearance of Jaylah’s hologram technology is confusing. She uses a portable device to create hologrammatic, independently acting duplicates of herself, which, it seemed actually hit some of the bad guys. This presumably alien tech is superior to the Next Gen holodeck technology since it is portable and programmable on the fly. (Projection: Jaylah, who’s been accepted for Star Fleet Academy, finds that Federation sim tech is less sophisticated than hers, goes into business supplying what becomes Holodeck/emergency medical hologram equipment, and retires very rich--).

The design of Starbase Yorktown is wondrous, but nonsensical in a number of ways. Why should a starship be able to “drive” all the way to the center of the base when there’s no reason for it to, and many why it shouldn’t? The master ventilator node is located at the physical center of the spherical construct, but only accessible by a series of perilous ladders. The answer to that one, is so that there can be an exciting fight scene, but that’s pretty much the rationale for the whole film.
Wednesday night, July 27th, we went to the Avalon Theatre to see the latest installment of the rebooted Star Trek franchise. I was interested because this was a new story, having skipped Into Darkness, the Wrath of Khan remake.

Star Trek Beyond is big, flashy, and loud. After starting off with a bit of humor and some contemplation, Kirk (Chris Pine) and the Enterprise are detailed for a rescue mission: an alien (non-Federation) survey ship has been lost in one of the universe’s many uncharted nebulas.
When the Enterprise succeeds in reaching the mysterious planet at the heart of the nebula, the ship is almost instantly attacked by a swarming horde of drone craft, which chew the ship to bits, and provide cover for pirate boarding craft. After a lengthy sequence of combat and disaster in space, the largest relatively intact part, the saucer, crash-lands.

Most of the surviving crew, having taken to the escape pods, find themselves captured by Krall (Idris Elba), an alien who somewhat resembles both a “Reman” from the Next Gen movie Star Trek: Nemesis, or the alien talking head from the Original Series episode, “The Corbomite Maneuver.”

Krall seems to have both a particular, though unaccountable, grudge against the Federation and a pipeline into Federation data resources.
Of course, Kirk, Spock, McCoy, Scott, and Chekov (Zachary Quinto, Karl Urban, Simon Pegg, and Anton Yelchin) evade capture by various means, but not without mishaps. Scott encounters warrior Jaylah (Sofia Boutella), who provides them a great deal of aid in rescuing the crew from Krall, and hindering Krall’s mad plan to bring war to the Federation.

I won’t go into further detail of the plot here: suffice to say that’s it’s pretty improbable, but not necessarily so much as to be jeering-at-the-screen stupid. Once the aliens attack the Enterprise, it’s pretty much non-stop action, to the extent that all the smashing, bashing, crashing, and flashing gets wearing. (Director Justin Lin was previously known for three episodes of the Fast & Furious auto race/chase/wreck movies--).
The particular good parts include the developing relationship between Spock and McCoy, and between Spock and Uhura, and the lines that Simon Pegg (one of the film’s writers) evidently wrote for himself as Scott. (I find it interesting that Kirk doesn’t seem to have any romantic impulses toward any characters. Even Yeoman Janet Rand, who used to cast longing looks at the Captain, didn’t make the cut into the new timeline. If this would have been a TOS episode, there would have been sparks of lust between Kirk and Jaylah. Instead, there’s a faint possibility of “geek love” between her and Scott--).

And of course, the movie looks fantastic. Special effects are up to par, with the destruction of the Enterprise being harrowing and effective. Best of all is Starbase Yorktown, an amazing concept of an artificial planet, which McCoy derides as looking like a “snow globe,” but which more resembles one of those Perplexus puzzle spheres, with interior buildings growing every which way, possible due to artificial gravity (an effect rather like the dream-sequences in Inception--). The design is “illogical,” but it sure is cool. Some things are a bit overdone, like the hostile planetary surface, a hell of jagged rock that makes the approaches to Peter Jackson’s Mordor look like parkland. The CGI designers must have been frustrated that so much of the action takes place on the planet or the starbase, because the end-title sequence includes some of the most beautiful renderings of nebulae and spatial phenomena I have seen, and is well worth sitting through.

Recommended for series fans with stamina.

Arriving at the Avalon Theater early, we were intrigued to find that, instead of the endless run of ads and promotional materials other theatres run between shows, they ran a couple of short subjects, which in this case, were both science-fictional. Rise, a highly produced short dealing with a developing war between humans and robots, starred well-known actor Rufus Sewell, and the late Anton (Chekov) Yelchin. It looked interesting, but we came in in the middle. Another was an extended music video titled “Holding on to Life”, by a group called Broken Bells, which appeared to be set in a version of the world of Logan’s Run. Neither the music nor the visuals were very compelling, I watched mainly to see if it would jell into something intelligible. It didn’t, but if it’s an extended trailer for some project, it wouldn’t have to.

And, speaking of trailers, we saw ones for a WWII movie, Anthropoid (it’s a code name--), Suicide Squad, XXX: Return of Xander Cage, Jack Reacher: Never Go Back; and Star Wars: Rogue One, all of which seem to be full of the old ultra-violence. Anthropoid looked well-made and interesting; I might see Suicide Squad on my own for the hell of it; Rogue One of course—ironically, it’s the least violent appearing; and give Xander and Jack passes. (Vin Diesel is getting a bit pudgy to be the action hero. On the other hand, I wager there is a seedy-looking portrait in Tom Cruise’s attic--).

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