Sunday, September 30, 2007

Around the World Wide Web 28

1. If you have a blog, check out Built With to see how your blog rates. I got three out of five stars. I'll take that, since I have no idea what it all means or how I even got that many stars. I just figured out what "widget" means -- it's a symbol or banner you put on your blog that people can click on, like Site Meter or Blog Rush. If it's fancier than a regular link, it must be a widget.

2. Currently, I am a crunchy crustacean in the blog ecosystem. Since I was a worm, I'll take the promotion to lobster.

UPDATE: Breaking news. At last check, I have achieved the level of Lowly Insect. Repeat, I am now a Lowly Insect.

I... I don't know what to say. Excuse me, I seem to have something in my eye. *sob* I want to thank all the microbes and worms I met along the way. I hope I treated you guys well, because I know I'll be seeing you again on my way down. I love you, man.

3. The Rise of the New Criminal, though clumsily written, makes the interesting observation that a new type of criminal is on the rise. The standard model of career criminal is one who begins as a juvenile delinquent and continues a life of crime into adulthood. The new criminal is someone who has been honest and productive all his life but gets laid off and as he is living above his means and is in debt, he panics and commits a burglary. The author blames this new criminal on a few economic trends, such as the fact that people change jobs more often than our parents did.

I believe the real underlying cause of the new criminal is the rise of altruism. Altruism tells us that the strong must sacrifice for the weak. So when some people are down and out, they figure those who are better off owe them something. They think the world owes them a living. Some weak men use this to rationalize theft.

4. Angry Bear is posting charts of various economic data comparing US Presidents. Clinton consistently has the best economic performance and GW Bush has the worst. It should be noted that Clinton was a weak president and after the 1994 election that brought Republicans to power in Congress, there was little he could do but go along with the Republicans. Clinton's economic performance should be attributed to the Republican Congress. Bush, in his titanic ignorance and his "compassionate conservatism," threw away the economic gains of the the '90s in order to buy votes and bring "democracy" to Iraq.

This is one reason I would not mind a Hillary Clinton Presidency; it would stiffen the Republicans' spines and lead them to at least scale back the growth of government.

5. Andrew Breitbart is demolishing David Ehrenstein in this discussion about Hollywood being a liberal town. Please, it's not even a question. I believe there are eight movies about Iraq coming out, all from the leftist point of view; I heard that one even features our military men as rapists.

One interesting paragraph from this discussion:

My father-in-law, Orson Bean, an author, comedian and actor, was once blacklisted as a Communist back in the '50s. Ed Sullivan called him to say he could no longer book him on the show. Fifty years later, and after a sharp ideological metamorphosis, Orson says it's harder now to be an open conservative on a Hollywood set than it was back then to be a Communist.

6. Hillary Clinton has floated the wonderful, oh-so-compassionate idea of giving every American baby $5,000 when it is born. (Let's buy votes by getting everyone on the government gravy train at birth!) The money would be put into a savings account (and how long before those "accounts" became empty IOU's from the government like social security "accounts"?), so that every American would have around $19,000 of stolen money by the age of 20. And how does the young American get this loot? "[H]e or she commits to at least one year of national or military service." So it's a backdoor way of making everyone serve the state. Hillary Clinton, fascist nightmare.

Saturday, September 29, 2007

Cats and Dogs

Cats do not have conceptual consciousness; they don't have language and do not think in universals or concepts. By human standards their minds are terribly limited -- and yet, as limited as their minds are, no cat is exactly the same as other cats. Each cat has a style of doing things and little quirks of behavior that make him unique.

Cats form their personality early and then never change. For this reason, it's good to be careful when selecting a kitten. When you visit a litter, if a kitten comes to you, that is the one you want. It is friendly, unafraid and outgoing -- and will remain so until its death. The kitten that cowers in the corner and hisses when you approach will always be that way; you might establish some understanding with it, but it will never be friendly and outgoing.

A screenwriting teacher of mine at UCLA used to say, "Your hero can kick a cat, but not a dog." We recoil from abusing dogs, but we think abusing cats is funny. Why is this? In large part I think it comes down to the noise each animal makes when it is hurt. Dogs make a human-sounding YELP! and then they whine or moan. We sympathize with the dog's suffering. But as anyone who has stepped on a cat knows, they make an inhuman Satanic screech. That screech is just funny, especially on film. It's hilarious when the cat chews the Christmas lights cord in National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation.

That teacher also said that having a hero pet a dog is one of the quickest ways to establish that he is a good guy. In a movie that one image of petting a dog is worth more than a thousand words from other characters testifying that a character is nice.

Much of our enjoyment of pets comes from projecting our humanity onto them. We think they love us the way we love them. I usually call this the "pathetic fallacy," but looking the concept up on the web, I see that it comes from a confusing essay by John Ruskin about art. We'll set the concept of the pathetic fallacy aside for now.

The behaviors we think of in human terms come from one major difference in cats and dogs: cats are territorial, whereas dogs are pack animals.

As pack animals that roam across large distances without regard to territory, it is vitally important that dogs maintain contact with the pack. This is why a dog will run to his master when he whistles. The dog sees humans as leaders of the pack and he wants to make them happy in order to fit into the pack. The pack has a pecking order that the dog respects.

As territorial beasts, cats do not have the need to run to the master when called. Some cats will run to you if they are trained to think they will get food for it, but many will ignore a call or respond with a meow, as if to say, "I'm here in our territory, as I should be." My cats do not like it when I approach them; they prefer me to be stationary so that they can approach me on their terms and when they want.

The old joke, "Dogs have a master, cats have staff," reflects the pack/territorial distinction. Dogs need a leader of the pack to whose dominance they submit. Cats can be more aloof as long as they know you're there. Cats can also be more egalitarian, if you will, although some cats are certainly bossier than others.

As pack animals, dogs can go to new places without blinking. They will walk happily on leashes into any strange territory. To a cat, a new place can be traumatic. The cat hides beneath a bed or behind some appliance and can take days to explore a new territory.

Introducing a new cat into the territory of another cat can be traumatic and if the two cats get off to a bad start they might never be happy together. The way to do it is to put the new cat in a bedroom or bathroom with food, water and a litter box, then close the door. Let the other cats in the house smell the new cat under the crack in the door for a few days. Then leave the door open a crack and let the cats explore one another on their own terms. The worst thing you can do is throw a new cat into the midst of other cats, because then you get hissing and spitting and fighting. Dogs, of course, can become friends in minutes. Compared to cats, they're like, "Dude, let's party! Whoo-hoo!"

When cats rub your legs, even that is a manifestation of territoriality. Cats have glands in their cheeks that they rub on your legs to mark you as theirs. And you thought they were just being affectionate. If you'll notice, they also do it to the legs of coffee tables and other furniture. (Now, dogs humping your leg is a mystery to me and I'm not sure I want to know why they do that.)

As rational animals, humans think in concepts. We form values that we act to gain and keep. Do dumb animals have values? I think on some low, limited level you could say they do. My cats follow me from room to room because they know I'm their meal ticket. They like to crawl all over me and curl up on my lap. They purr when I pet them, which is a communication of affection. But what is petting to a cat? They think I'm grooming the parts of their head that are hard for them to reach.

I suspect that we project values onto our pets far more than they actually have. Cats and dogs are incapable of loving the way humans love. They can know fear, but not envy or hatred. If they know love or anger, it is within their very limited, perceptual context of knowledge. The rest of their behavior comes from their nature as a pack or territorial animal.

UPDATE: Slight revision.

Friday, September 28, 2007

The Augustinian Christian's Dilemma in America

This Christian laments that because Christians are ignorant they are easy targets for an ignorant atheist like Christopher Hitchens. She wishes Dostoyevsky were on the shelves of Christian bookstores. "Dostoyevsky exposed the evils of pride and self-devised 'justice.'"

Atheist characters such as Ivan Karamazov and Stavrogin are chilling portraits of nihilism. Only a Christian, with that religion's twisted and repulsive view of pride as sin, could think these self-destructive, dishonest characters have anything to do with the virtue of pride.

As an atheist I have read Dostoyevsky with great interest. He is a novelist of the first rank, who draws the reader into a world of moral drama and keeps him turning the pages with an exciting plot. It is true that Dostoyevsky was a Christian and his villains are atheists, but I don't see how anyone would be inspired to become a Christian from the example of his tormented Christian characters. Perhaps his novels are not in Christian bookstores because he serves Christianity straight and Americans want all that vale of tears stuff watered down with happy talk and "Jesus loves you." It's hard to sell Christianity to Americans by saying, "Accept Jesus as your savior and be miserable for the rest of your life."

Consistent Augustinian Christians are in a bind. They look down their nose at American Christianity, which is indeed shallow, sugary and idiotic. But this is the only Christianity that Americans, with their heritage of capitalism and individualism and their belief in life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness will accept. Worldly, happy Americans pick what they want to believe out of the Bible, a vast book full of contradictions. They choose to hear "Go forth and prosper" rather than all that stuff about rich men not getting into Heaven.

Pursuit of happiness is the opposite of how Jesus lived and how famous Christians such as St. Francis of Assisi lived. Consistent Augustinian Christians renounce this world and live in a cave. They wear hair shirts and drink dirty laundry water. They live lives of sacrifice and misery because this world is the realm of Satan, a fleeting illusion, and they will be rewarded for their sacrifice with happiness in the next world. By Augustinian standards the American dream is a Satanic dream. It's a damn hard sell to materialistic Americans.

I would advise Augustinians to look to the left for converts, especially to environmentalists. There they will find Americans who already hate prosperity and capitalism. In many ways they will find comrades in spirit. All the Augustinians have to do is persuade the leftists to destroy the remnants of reason they have and accept the Christian mythology of the big guy in the sky who sent his son to Earth to suffer for our sins.

With normal, happy Americans, the Augustinians must tread with care. Overplaying their hand will scare Americans away from Christianity entirely. It is a burden, but the Augustinian Christians can comfort themselves that this is the cross they must bear. In their suffering they shall know their savior.

Thursday, September 27, 2007

Around the World Wide Web 27

1. Right Wing Nation has the quote of the century. It is a brilliant insight.

2. How is an establishment established? Through government funding of the arts. In Finland right-wing artists keep their ideas to themselves in order to get grants.

...coming out as a right-winger on Finland’s left-dominated art scene would mean an end to grants, leading to economic problems. Boards and panels would not look kindly on such a move.

3. Ergo has an interesting post on an argument between the world famous philosopher Colin McGinn and some Objectivists on McGinn's blog. I haven't read McGinn's blog; Ergo's report is enough for me. McGinn attempted to argue from intimidation with ad hominem attacks that did not work. What might work in an Oxford classroom does not fly in the blogosphere.

4. Mike's Eyes look at the ravages of inflation, comparing prices between 1942 and today. Remember, inflation only happens by the government printing paper money. In the last quarter of the 19th century, when America was on the gold standard, prices actually fell through the normal working of the free market. I believe that the price differential between 1942 and today does not tell the whole story of how much the government has destroyed the dollar because the market, competition and technological progress (most especially the computer) have worked to bring down prices and thus help disguise the extent of inflation.

5. Combine the premise of the nanny state, in which the state can force individuals to do what the state considers healthy, with the premise of multiculturalism, in which non-western cultures must be appeased as much as western culture is reviled, and what do you get? Infidels can't smoke, but Muslims can.

6. The folks at Democratic Underground are excited because Daniel Ellsberg of Pentagon Papers fame has written a piece declaring that A Coup Has Occurred. That's right, President Bush has already overthrown the US Constitution, most of us are just unaware of it. When I read the piece on DU I was struck by how unsupported and floating Ellsberg's argument is; he provides no examples, no evidence, nothing to support his extraordinary claim. I followed the link and read the original to make sure the evidence was not cut out by the poster at DU, but still could find none.

This piece offers a fascinating look at leftist epistemology. Ellsberg can assert without evidence that Bush has overthrown the US Constitution and the people at DU think it is true because they want it to be true. And these are the people who boast they are the reality-based community.

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Shakespeare's Plays: Popular and Unpopular

Shakespeare's Popular Plays

Richard III

Henry IV, part 1

Henry V

The Comedy of Errors

The Taming of the Shrew

A Midsummer Night's Dream

The Merchant of Venice

As You Like It

Much Ado About Nothing

Twelfth Night

The Merry Wives of Windsor

Romeo and Juliet

Julius Caesar



King Lear


Antony and Cleopatra

The Tempest

Shakespeare's Unpopular Plays

Henry VI, part 1

Henry VI, part 2

Henry VI, part 3

King John

Richard II

Henry IV, part 2

Henry VIII

The Two Gentlemen of Verona

Love's Labor's Lost

All's Well That Ends Well

Measure For Measure

Titus Andronicus

Troilus and Cressida

Timon of Athens




The Winter's Tale

The Two Noble Kinsmen

Oddly enough, the count comes out 19-19.

The hardest play to categorize was Two Gentlemen of Verona, a borderline play; it is either the most popular of the unpopular plays or the least popular of the popular plays. Another borderline play is Richard II. Measure For Measure is in the gray area. The Winter's Tale has its partisans, especially among critics who are more sensitive to the poetry than playgoers, but it must go in the unpopular category.

I confess, putting Henry IV, part 1 in the popular category might be wishful thinking, as it is my favorite play by Shakespeare (an admittedly idiosyncratic opinion). Henry IV, part 1 does not get produced nearly as much as it should, probably because the female roles are quite small and most theatre companies have some actresses they need to keep happy. Also I think people are confused and intimidated by all the numbers in the history plays. People feel they have to go back to school to understand the history plays. What gets overlooked is that Henry IV, part 1 has a brilliant structure and the best climax in all of Shakespeare. It has one of the greatest comic characters ever written (Falstaff), a tragic character (Hotspur) and a romantic character (Prince Hal). Each character plays a variation on the theme of honor.

Of the unpopular plays, at least six are thought to be collaborations with other playwrights. Our current age seems to devalue collaboration. Most of the unpopular plays have weak or episodic plots. People want a tight, entertaining story more than anything.

None of Shakespeare's unpopular plays is entirely without interest, especially when you look at them as poems rather than stage plays. Personally, the plays I would most like to see or be in are in the unpopular category. I'm thoroughly sick of Midsummer Night's Dream and Romeo and Juliet.

Popularity changes over time. Pericles was one of Shakespeare's most popular plays in the 17th century, and among the first to be revived when the theatres reopened in the Restoration; today it is one of the Bard's least known plays. Coriolanus was popular into the 19th century, but the rise of egalitarianism in the 20th century has made the elitist hero unpopular. Titus Andronicus was first denounced by a critic in 1687, remained unpopular for the next two and a half centuries and is only now gaining some popularity.

Monday, September 24, 2007

Around the World Wide Web 26

1. Squirrel melts. What a scream.

2. Is this video really from 1964 or is it a fake made today?  If it really comes from 1964, I'm stunned at their prediction of the internet.

3. 45% of Daily Kos readers would rather have Ahmadinejad as US President than Bush. These are the "netroots" that have a growing influence on the Democrat Party. 40 years ago you would have had to go to the fringe far-left parties to get such a poll result; today you find it in mainstream Democrats. When the next Democrat President is elected, some of these people will be prowling the West Wing of the White House.

4. This conservative says we're in Iraq permanently. I don't hear Republicans talking much about this. Sounds like they've adopted a Cold War strategy of long-term containment of the enemy instead of actually fighting a war seriously and destroying the enemy.

5. An effective commercial.

6. Advice for those who would blog. It's about sports blogging, but much of the advice could apply to all bloggers.

Sunday, September 23, 2007


Chip Joyce posted the following at HBL. I thought it was so interesting that I asked his permission to repost it here.

The US government is committing theft on an historic level and all of us who get paid in dollars are the victims.

* The Canadian Dollar is .9999:1, highest relative value in 31 yrs

* The Euro is 1.4:1, the highest relative value in history

* The British Pound is 2.014:1, right around the highest relative value in history

At this point HB noted that the Pound is at a high in recent history; long ago it was much higher.

* Gold is $730/oz, the highest price since 1980

* Crude oil is $82.51, the highest on record

If you have dollars, you are getting ripped off on a level you probably haven't yet realized. Inflation--and this is serious inflation--does not at first uniformly affect the economy. Much of it depends on where the government creates credit and pumps counterfeit money ( i.e. paper money) into the economy. In my judgment things are much worse than they appear to most people right now.

Roughly 30% of your income and wealth has been stolen from you since 2001, and the trend continues. While Bush advertises his tax cuts, his inflationist policy is taxing us to death, in a sneaky way.

Remember, inflation is a hidden tax. What's worse, politicians blame the price rise of such products as gasoline on greedy corporations. Statists dishonestly use the rising prices that the state causes to argue for more state intervention in the economy!

So now, on top of all the other damage Bush's "compassionate conservatism" has done to the economy, we can add rising inflation.

You can read more about inflation in this post, The Worst American President in History.

Saturday, September 22, 2007

Casual Sex

I thank all the people who took time to comment about my question regarding casual sex. I think most of the contention and confusion in the comments arose from interpreting the hypothetical situation, which I an now sorry I brought up. One has to assume an average context to a hypothetical. If one starts dreaming up wild scenarios like, "Okay, say it's the last day of this guy's life..." then one defeats the purpose of the hypothetical. But still, there are too many variables to make that hypothetical question useful.

I have some uncertainty about casual sex, which is why I asked the question. My tentative answer is most like the fourth commenter, Anonymous, who brought up the virtue of pride. Promiscuity shows a lack of pride. Before the rise of the egalitarian New Left, discriminating was understood as a virtue. A discriminating man does not sleep with any slut who will say yes after 10 seconds of conversation.

To understand a lack of pride as immorality, one must get rid of every vestige of Christian or traditional morality, for they hold humility as a virtue. I think even some Objectivists struggle with the idea that lacking pride is immoral. Remember, morality is not primarily about what you do to other people, but about how you should deal with reality. Pride is a virtue because it means you strive to live as well as you can.

Sex between a man and a woman involves the woman submitting to the man. The man pursues the woman, wins the woman, conquers the woman, takes the woman and other verbs that make romantic love sound like a battlefield. The man penetrates and the woman is penetrated. If a woman submits too easily, then the victory is not as satisfying.

But I also sympathize with Tom Rowland's position. Casual sex might be inferior and not as satisfying as romantic love sex, and certainly a habit of casual sex -- promiscuity -- is wrong, but is occasional casual sex always wrong? I can't say that it is.

Don't tell me my position is like "If I only rob banks on Tuesday, then I'm still moral." Casual sex is not a crime. A better analogy would be, "I know that great art offers the more enriching, soul-satisfying experience, but sometimes I like to watch detective shows on TV." Or "I enjoy fine dining, but sometimes I only have time and money for McDonald's."

I think those of us who are not religious still have to watch for remnants of puritan hatred of sex in our thinking. Sex is a good thing. With a serious, committed romantic partner it is great; with anyone less serious it can still be pretty good.

Those are my thoughts. I am open to persuasion if I am wrong.

Around the World Wide Web 25

1. My jaw hit the floor when I read this paragraph from Ayn Rand Institute's email press release (link will come when they post the piece on their web site), "The Un-American Call For National Service":

But the idea behind national service is that service to the state is a moral duty. The government, its advocates claim, should teach us that service is an integral part of American citizenship. Robin Gerber, a professor of leadership at the University of Maryland, writes: “Young Americans should be told they have an obligation to serve, a duty to actively support their democracy.” Conservative writer David Brooks endorses national service because it “takes kids out of the normal self-obsessed world of career and consumption and orients them toward service and citizenship.” Brooks favors military-related national service, because under it, “Today's children . . . would suddenly face drill sergeants reminding them they are nothing without the group.”

David Brooks longs to have drill sergeants screaming into a young person's face. "You are nothing without the group!" And we can't have a nation of citizens who are obsessed with career -- how horrible that would be. (What does Brooks think people like Andrew Carnegie and John Rockefeller were obsessed with? Wasting time in soup kitchens? In the 19th century, when America was free, the nation was filled with people obsessed with career.) As usual, the worst stuff comes from conservatives.

2. I see that Bill Clinton has published a new book called Giving. I think they left off the second word of the title, "Head." Must be a mistake.

Another book from a politician exhorting citizens to sacrifice for the collective? I would say it deserves a place right between Mein Kampf and Quotations From Chairman Mao, but that would be giving Giving too much stature. As Clinton is a hillbilly con artist from Arkansas, his book should be on the bottom shelf next to Lil Abner reprints and books on the dangers of inbreeding.

3. Bob Herbert writes about an interesting ballot initiative that Californians might vote on in the next primary election. In California the "winner takes all" -- the winning Presidential candidate gets all 55 electoral votes, even if he only won 50.1% of the vote. This initiative would award electoral votes depending on Congressional districts. Check out this map of the 2004 election, and you see what a disaster this ballot initiative could mean for the Democrats. Herbert says the Republican would get 20 votes, as much as the state of Ohio. The Democrats depend on all 55 votes to win the Presidency, so this change would make it just about impossible, the way things are now, for a Democrat to be elected President.

Make no mistake, the Republicans are not doing this out of any high-minded political principles. If the winner take all method favored the Republicans, they would scream that this ballot initiative heralded the end of the world as we know it. This is a "Just win, baby" move.

Would the change be good? Well, it would make me feel like my vote counted a little more. The way things are now, California Republicans are discouraged to bother voting. Republican candidates ignore the state. Everyone assumes the 55 votes will go Democrat. This change would not only give 20 votes to the GOP, but it would motivate more Republicans to vote, a double disaster for the Dems. (This is not to say I will necessarily vote Republican in 2008. Conservatives like David Brooks and Alan Keyes might drive me to join the loonies at Democratic Underground.)

4. James Caan talks about what he's learned. These quotes sound like what he would say.

5. Dodgers have lost six in a row. Is it basketball season yet?

6. Naomi Wolf argues that President Bush is taking us to Fascist America, in 10 easy steps. Before we dismiss this as leftist hysteria, we should remember that if Hillary Clinton were President, right-wingers would be writing pieces just like this. If the Patriot Act passed during a Clinton presidency, giving the government broad powers to listen to individuals, don't you think World Net Daily, Newsmax and Human Events would be screaming?

Most of her points are overwrought, such as point three, "Develop a thug caste." Please, the only thug caste today is the leftist demonstrators who disturb the peace at G8 meetings and throw trash cans through store windows.

The more interesting question to me is: what happens when the government is turned over to a Democrat President? What does that President do with the Patriot Act and the Department of Homeland Security? Does that President use articles such as Ms. Wolf's as justification for his own crackdowns on civil liberties?

If President Bush has initiated policies that depend on the goodness and honesty of those in power for them not to be abused, then aren't those policies bad?

Thursday, September 20, 2007

As You Like It

As You Like It (1936), a British film starring Laurence Olivier and Elizabeth Bergner, is, I believe, the most successful screen version of a Shakespeare play ever. Shakespeare generally does not film well, as cinema is a visual art and Shakespeare is an art of spoken poetry. This movie cut the hell out of the play to achieve its success, which will not make purists happy, but judging the movie qua movie, I think it was the right choice.

The script is based on a treatment by J.M. Barrie, author of Peter Pan. The editing is done by a young David Lean who would go onto greater glory as the director of such masterpieces as Lawrence of Arabia and The Bridge Over River Kwai. Some of the older actors in the film would have started their careers in the 19th century and acted with the likes of Henry Irving and Ellen Terry.

This movie is a most romantic production of Shakespeare's most romantic comedy. The sets and costumes are stylized and unrealistic, as in a fairy tale, but not grotesque or fantastic. Every detail of the production is chosen to create this romantic world; as a result the viewer is transported to a happy universe that has never existed but ought to exist.

Young Laurence Olivier is relaxed, handsome and heroic as Orlando. His sleepy eyes are suggestive and mesmerizing on film, and he manages to give a slightly written character more depth than he really has. This clip of the wrestling scene gives some idea of his acting and the production values. (Doubtless, if this scene were filmed today by say, Steven Spielberg, it would be more realistic and exciting, with thunderous rock music, laser lights, swooping cameras and sweat, blood and grunts -- but would it be better than this naive production?)

The revelation in this movie is Elizabeth Bergner, which is as it should be, for Rosalind dominates the play and all the other characters are two-dimensional compared to her. In all of Shakespeare's female roles she is second only to Cleopatra in depth and breadth. Bergner plays Rosalind as a young girl whose eyes shine with the innocence of youth. As a young girl, Rosalind's relationship with her best friend and confidante Celia is almost as important as her love relationship. (Women talk to each other about love way more than men do.) The two are giddy, giggling young things and their friendship is one of the most endearing aspects of the film -- a touch other productions might forget as they focus on the Rosalind-Orlando relationship. (Perhaps the Rosalind-Celia emphasis is a J.M. Barrie touch?)

Bergner plays a Rosalind who is madly in love and who has fun being in love. She is light-hearted and gay throughout and the viewer can't help having as much fun as she has. This is not an obvious choice for Rosalind. Many actresses are led astray by Rosalind's bountiful wisdom and good sense to play her as a Goddess of Reason who calmly trains Orlando in the art of love. How much more interesting it is to watch a Rosalind who is a bubbly, vivacious, feminine creature.

I work with a director who constantly urges actors to have more fun in Shakespeare's comedies. As he puts it, these characters lived before TV's and DVD's. Their entertainment was each other. In Twelfth Night Sir Toby and his friends gull Malvolio because they want to have fun; they want to be entertained. Or take the scene in Comedy of Errors in which Antipholus of Ephesus is locked out of his own house. If Angelo and Balthazar, who are onstage during this scene, just stand there watching Antipholus fight to get into his own house, that is a poor choice. Angelo and Balthazar should be laughing their ass off because their buddy is locked out of his own house. The right choice in a comedy is usually for characters to have fun (unless, like Malvolio or Antipholus, they are the object of fun). Bergner never forgets that she is in a comedy and her character immensely enjoys having some innocent fun with the man she loves.

The most astonishing thing about the play is how little actually happens -- and yet Shakespeare's theatrical sense and his poetry make it work. The plot is as thin and light as a fairy tale, hardly worth recounting. Many of the key actions that move the plot take place off stage and are told to us briefly by messengers because they're not important. What is important is the romantic, sunny world of Arden Forest, where Rosalind's father has been banished and lives like a Robin Hood without the mission to steal from the rich and redistribute wealth. Arden Forest integrates everything else in the story; the place is almost a character of its own.

Into this pastoral world Rosalind goes dressed as a boy named Ganymede. She meets her lover Orlando and slyly suggests that he practice wooing Rosalind with Ganymede. Orlando, apparently confident that none of the other men are watching, agrees to playact wooing with this boy. As Shakespeare knew from the Falstaff-Prince Hal scene in which they playact Hal talking to his father (Henry IV), there is something fascinating about watching characters pretend to be someone else onstage; or to put it another way, watching actors play characters who are actors. The scenes between Orlando and Ganymede, in which Orlando acts out his love with a boy who is actually his love are the heart of the play.

The movie is not for everyone. It's in black and white, which many young people refuse to watch these days. Any movie made in England in 1936 is bound to be crude by today's technical standards. When you watch a 70-year old movie, it helps if you have some practice watching old movies. The sound quality is typically poor -- this is especially bad since the script is full of archaic language that is hard to understand under the best of conditions. They cut almost all of Act V, including one of the best parts of the play, when Jaques leaves the Duke. If you can get past all this, you might like it -- especially if you are tired of naturalism and long for a romantic view of life that is forgotten today.

UPDATE: Revision.

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

12 Steps to the Next Dark Age

I heard a liberal DJ -- a serious man, not a shock jock -- announce that America was healed from September 11, 2001 because no one cared about the anniversary in 2007. In fact, both Kanye West and 50 Cent released albums on September 11, 2007, and judging who was the King of Hip-Hop was more important to many people than remembering the terrorist attacks. The nation has healed so now it can move on. (And anyone who does not move on, one can infer, is psychologically unhealthy as he holds onto his grief.)

It must be nice to reduce complicated issues of foreign policy, war and the fate of our civilization to psychobabble. The wounds are healed! Move on! Don't think about it!

That's right, we can all stick our head back in the sand. Go back to sleep, the crisis is over.

It reminds me of the first scene in Apocalypse Now. Martin Sheen is spending his leave in a hotel room getting drunk. Growing soft. While Charlie is still out there in the jungle staying hard. Charlie doesn't take leave.

We don't have names like Charlie, Gook or Kraut for our current enemy -- that would be racist. We can kill the enemy, but we can't call him names. In fact, we can't name him at all. We refer to him by his tactic: terrorist.

Whatever his name is, the enemy is still out there. Like Charlie, he doesn't take leave. He doesn't grow soft. He doesn't lie to himself or forget his purpose. He knows he is at war.

Because we have not killed him, he will attack again. Those who want us to move on evade the fact that the enemy refuses to move on. As Trotsky said, you might not be interested in war, but war is interested in you.

But I don't want to disturb the left from its daydreams. Let them live on in their fuzzy cocoon. It has become obvious that Western Civilization has deteriorated in the last 60 years and we will have to win the current war without the help of the left. If the West continues to decline, perhaps the next war will see leftists picking up weapons with the enemy and shooting at us. I'm not too worried about this prospect; people who are so out of touch with reality can't be very good shots.

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

A Question

Here is a question for you. If you would like to answer, please do so in the comments and explain your answer.

Imagine a man in a crowded night club where singles go to pick up other singles. He walks up to a woman he has not met and introduces himself, then asks, "Would you like to have sex with me?" She says no and he leaves her alone. He goes to another woman and does the same thing. He asks every woman to whom he is attracted in the club. Eventually, a woman says yes. They leave the night club, go to his apartment and have sex.

Has this man done anything immoral?

Around the World Wide Web 24

1. It's nice here in California since the heat wave broke a few weeks ago. It was uncommonly humid and uncomfortable, but no longer. I'm playwriting regularly, so I'm happy. I'll be performing Richard III's opening monologue, "Now is the winter of our discontent..." at a charity function around Halloween. Perhaps I should not have, but I watched Laurence Olivier's excellent performance of the monologue on You Tube. I think an actor should do the monologue with some energy and wicked, villainous fun without lapsing into the Snidely Whiplash mustache twirling and "Bwah-ha-ha-ha-ha!" I like how when Olivier says "As I am subtle, false and treacherous," he looks away with some resignation on the word "treacherous" and underplays it. It's more effective and chilling than rubbing one's hands in glee on the word.

Also this fall I will have a small role in the LA production of "Monna Vanna" by Maurice Maeterlinck but I won't be in the cruise ship show. I'm delighted that I get to be in the show at all; as with my recent experience in Cyrano, I look forward to studying the writing.

2. Dennis Prager looks at the purpose of leftist judges, educators and reporters.

...I was the moderator of a panel of judges -- including a past California Supreme Court justice -- and lawyers connected to the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals. I asked the panel members to give their view of the role of judges. The response of the liberal former California Supreme Court justice opened my eyes to the left's view of virtually everything in society.

He said that the purpose of a California Supreme Court justice, and for that matter, every judge, is to fight economic inequality and racism in society. I responded that I thought the one purpose of a judge was to render justice in the courtroom.

3. When asked if the war in Iraq had made America safer, General Petraeus first said he did not know, then a few hours later said the answer is yes. Is it as significant as The Progressive thinks or a dumb question?

I wouldn't want to make too big a deal of it, but I find it interesting that in all the months of preparation General Petraeus put into this much anticipated testimony, he didn't think to prepare an answer to the question whether the war in Iraq has made America safer. Could this be because the war is primarily about helping Iraq become a "democracy," and the subsequent benefits from this for America are vague, long-term and theoretical?

No one would have hesitated during WWII to declare that the war had made America safer; it was obvious to all, experts and laymen. During Vietnam there would have been confusion over the question, for the war was the same package of America's interest smuggled in with the primary altruist interest of helping another country that we see in Iraq. In both Vietnam and Iraq the benefit for the foreign country was or is immediate and obvious (to all but the America-hating left), whereas the benefit for America is to come later, if it ever comes.

4. John Hawkins looks at the ideological conformity on the left. It all stems from the left's distrust of reason. Ideas to them are not an impartial identification of reality -- such a thing is impossible to the masses, whose thinking is determined by corporate interests; ideas and words are weapons to be used in the political struggle. So when a liberal criticizes the left, it is seen as giving the enemy ammunition. Truth is subordinated to politics.

5. Born Again Redneck notes that California is not all bad. As you can see from this map, it is split into three political regions, El Norte, Upper Coasts and Sagebrush. Basically, the coast, where the big cities and rich people are, is blue or Democrat; the interior is red or Republican. The "Inland Empire" where I live (Riverside and San Bernardino counties) is, last I heard, tied with Atlanta as the fourth fastest growing metropolitan region in America. Something like 500 people a day move here. I don't know if that number counts illegal aliens.

6. This Jimmy Kimmel bit on Miss Teen South Carolina's jaw-dropping response to the question of why one-fifth of Americans cannot locate America on a map is not just funny -- the show writes out her response on a chalkboard, so you can better see how muddled her thinking and grammar are. The poor girl is an ironic example of the American stupidity she was asked about.

And what is the correct answer to the question? Such widespread ignorance is a result of the decline of American education. The three biggest contributors to this decline are progressive education, which emphasizes "socializing" students over learning facts; government's near monopoly on education, which stifles competition; and teachers unions, a pressure group that serves teachers at the expense of students and supports indoctrinating students with New Leftist ideologies.

Any beauty pagent contestant who answered something like that would turn me on regardless of how she looked in a swimsuit.

Sunday, September 16, 2007

Ironic Provincialism

The doughty Gus Van Horn has linked to recent pieces discussing Ayn Rand. Some of the commenters at Volokh offer an opinion that has astonished me for 30 years -- that Ayn Rand's novels are not well written. There are those who say the novels are not great literature, or sometimes they call them "subliterature." Some go so far as to say they are not novels at all. They rarely give examples, but assert the inferiority of Ayn Rand's writing as if it were self-evident and any sophisticated, impartial reader would see it.

Since I am an Objectivist, my opinion is meaningless to them -- I am biased/blinded/cultish/a true believer/one who doesn't like real literature -- but I'll give it anyway. Ayn Rand is a brilliant novelist. Her style is a remarkable integration of clarity and passion, or fact and value; she gives concrete percepts that add up to thematic and emotional meaning. She avoids vague emotional writing unconnected to specific percepts as well as dry concretes that add up to no evaluation. (This is just an observation on her style. One could write a book about the excellence of her plotting, characterization and themes.)

The blithe certainty of these critics is made possible by our current culture, in which modern literature (especially naturalism) is assumed to be the way literature should be and pre-modern literature (especially romanticism) is assumed to be inferior, merely a step in our cultural evolution that culminates in modernism. Pre-modern literature is just the sapling, its potential still unfulfilled, whereas modern literature is the tree: mature, actualized literature. The assumptions of naturalism are unquestioned, like the air we breathe.

The literary critic Northrop Frye called our time the age of irony: instead of looking up at a protagonist who is larger than life, we look down at one who is smaller. Kafka's heroes, trapped in a nightmare existence in which they are helpless, are archetypal figures in ironic literature. Frye called the idea that irony is sophisticated or better than the literature that came before it "ironic provincialism."

(As an aside, the premises of naturalism/modernism/irony have played hell with the art of acting. Many of today's actors are terrified to do anything "unnatural" -- that is, anything larger than life or romanticized. Marlon Brando's mumbles are the unquestioned "way it should be," but John Gielgud's glorious music is considered inferior. An acting teacher once told me he tried to get an actress to do something big and presentational, one of those moments when the actor looks right at the audience and speaks. The actress shrank in horror and replied, "But that's... theatrical!" Imagine that, actors afraid to be theatrical. This is where a century of naturalism has brought us.)

Ayn Rand's novels are unnaturalistic in every aspect, from plot to style, but I think two aspects bother the modernists more than the rest. First, she has something to say. Her novels have her ideas in them, and some characters speak the author's ideas. This drives the modernists crazy. Open any book on fiction writing/screenwriting/playwriting and you will find warnings against using characters as a "soapbox." Naturalists consider it bad if a character speaks the author's "message."

The soapbox can be bad if it is handled ineptly. The thematic material must be integrated with the plot and characters for it to work. John Galt's speech -- the most audacious speech in the history of literature, in which Ayn Rand not only makes the point of Atlas Shrugged, but also introduces a revolutionary new philosophy -- is integrated, because it gives the explicit thematic meaning of what has been dramatized in the previous 900-plus pages.

You'll notice that those who are against soapboxes are rather selective in their indignation. If a character is a cynic who denounces man as inherently depraved, somehow that is not criticized as being a soapbox, even though the character is expressing the author's belief. Instead, this is praised as "challenging," "disturbing our bourgeois complacency," and so on. Any play that attacks George Bush, conservatism, capitalism or America is praised as a courageous act of justice.

The more consistent naturalists will attack soapboxes on both the left and the right. In their radical empiricism, they see any thematic summation as unnatural. If characters are shown stumbling around in an idiotic, concrete-bound daze, never using reason to understand or add it all up, then the empiricists are comfortable that the writer has dramatized human nature realistically.

The other aspect of Ayn Rand's writing that convinces modernists she is inferior is her clarity. She writes clearly and with power. In our modern age novels that make you scratch your head and mumble "What the f**k was THAT all about?" are considered sophisticated literature. Ambiguity is praised as a literary virtue. As Nietzsche put it, they muddy their waters to make them look deep. By this standard Rand can't be a good writer because she can be understood.

But there will always be young people coming along who have not yet been corrupted by the modernists into believing obfuscation, plotlessness, nihilism and despair are sophistication. Those young people will respond positively to Ayn Rand's novels. Some will continue on to study Rand's nonfiction books and explore the philosophy seriously. The fate of the West, I suspect, is in their hands.

Wednesday, September 05, 2007


The shows are over. Now I'm focused on playwriting and songwriting. It is so nice to have evenings free. I will neglect this blog awhile longer.