Friday, January 27, 2006

Frozen Review

Review of "FROZEN"
(For The State of Things, NPR Station, WUNC Chapel Hill)
Playmakers Repertory Company, Center for Dramatic Art, UNC-Chapel Hill
January 18 – February 12

Some people think of Carl Jung as a psychologist.

But he thought himself a doctor of the soul. Jung claimed that

The sight of evil kindles evil [ in the soul ]. There is no getting away from this. The victim is not the only sufferer, for the murderer and the whole human environment of the crime have been injured. A piece of the abysmal darkness of this world has broken in, poisoning the very air we breathe and imparting a stale, nauseating taste of blood to the clear water. It is true that we are innocent, we are even the victims, robbed, cheated, outraged; and yet for all that--or precisely for that very reason--the flame of evil flares up in our moral indignation.”

The new play at Playmakers, in Chapel Hill, raises the problem of evil, and of guilt. But it also raises questions of redemption, and the transcendent power of the human spirit. The title, FROZEN, is literally reflected in the austere, strikingly designed set. The psychiatrist-heroine, played with wrenching honesty by Deborah Hazlett, is descended from Icelandic ancestors. And the anguished mother Nancy, bereft from the loss of her raped and murdered daughter, is left with only a cold, empty vista as far as she can see. The mother is hauntingly played by Julie Fishell, at once the simplest and yet the most complex of the three speaking characters in the play.

James Kennedy is the murderous pedophile Ralph. The play’s finest aspect is the balance with which this character is portrayed. Not Lavery’s script, not the actor, and not the director, Drew Barr, ever give the Ralph character a break. We never sympathize with him. Yet in the end, he is no longer an object of our hatred. He is transformed, becoming capable of accepting, with some glimmer of understanding, the forgiveness that his victim’s mother must offer. But, for her to live, he has to see. She can’t forgive an animal; Ralph has to understand the burden that her forgiveness carries with it, for that act of charity to have any value. And he does, and it does.

At one point, Ralph describes one of his tattoos, visual trophies of his secret paroxysms of revenge against his own psychic agony. “Angels fighting devils, with a leafy green background.” That’s as good a description of Ralph himself as any I can think of. At that point in the play, Ralph is no more human than that leafy green background. Alive, yes; but he is just a canvas for the playing out of monstrous forces he can’t even comprehend, much less control.

The ultimate redemption of evil where we see it, and questions about real moral responsibility where we don’t, left me thinking about this play for hours. I often squirmed in my seat while the play was being performed. After it ended, I wanted to go see it again. It is as challenging a piece of theater as you are likely to encounter. Whether you prefer philosophy or psychology, the questions raised here will give you a lot to think over. The performances are so well done, and the focus of the language so sharp, that you’ll want to see it twice, also.

The payoff is in the last ten minutes. I sat in my seat for several minutes after the show’s end, and I was well on the way home before I started to understand the way that all those loose ends came together. The craftsmanship of the script is revealed in that ending: the threads come together in a tangle, not a neat knot. Gordius would just shake his head and go for a walk.

The problem of evil is eternal; our own complicity … inescapable. I ended up thinking of another show in Durham, from last summer. I think Mick Jagger agreed with Carl Jung, about that kindling of evil. As Mick put it: “I shouted out, Who killed the kennedys? When after all It was you and me…Let me please introduce myself."

Thursday, January 26, 2006

Book Buy Combo

This bit reveals something about how the A.I. on Amazon's search routine matches things up.

Nod to the hot chick at FH

Wednesday, January 25, 2006

North and South: Yall Ahn't from 'round here, are You?

I have to answer lots of questions from my yankee friends. Here at Duke, a suburb a Newark, it is often the same questions over and over.

So, here is a partial reprint of a little newspaper piece I did years ago. Try to get this right, now.....

Why is it that...
• Natives dress by thermometer, northerners dress by calendar. As in, “It’s hot; why are you wearing a sweater?” “It’s January!”
• All drivers use five second rules on green lights if the car ahead doesn’t move. Southerners wait five seconds, and then they usually wait five more seconds. Northerners immediately blow their horn for five seconds.
• So many people from up north say, “I know how to drive in snow.” We generally hear this phrase as the tow truck driver pulls the car out of the ditch.
• R’s can’t be destroyed. Sure, northerners take R’s off of some words: cah. pahk. But they add them to others: idea(r). And it always turns out right: “I have an idea(r): Let’s take the cah and pahk it over at Donna(r)’s house.”
• When a southerner says, “hey!” people stop, and say, “what? WHAT?”

Now, some advice. Southerners never say...
• “Bring that salad dressing on the side”
• “I don’t have a favorite college team; I just like to watch”
• “Unsweetened tea just tastes better to me”
• “No, you can’t feed that to the dog”
• “We’re vegetarians”

If you venture outside the narrow confines of our cities, you will need to know three things.
• Country people rarely use turn signals, since there are no other cars around, and livestock respond better to hand signals. If you see a car with its turn signal on, it was left on at the factory.
• When several vehicles approach a four-way stop, the one with the largest tires gets the right of way.
• If you leave your car, you will likely have a conversation. In that conversation, you will be called “honey” or “darlin’.” Don’t go nuts about this; we already know you’re not from here.

Next, you have to come to grips with the second person plural. The standard “you” is ambiguous. Regions solve this problem in their own way.
• Southerners say “y’all.” But it is plural, not singular. If you say, “how are y’all doin’?” to one southerner to make fun of her accent, you sound like an idiot. Correct usage: “Hey, y’all, watch this!” If you hear this, take cover and dial 911.
• Northern common folk say “youse.” No problem...that’s logical: one you and another you = 2 yous.
• Classy sorority women: “You guys”. As in, “You guys think I have an accent?” (Then she makes this amazing parrot-sat-on-a-cactus noise).

Most important: Barbeque. Now, y’all think barbeque is a verb, but it’s a noun: we grill steaks, we eat barbeque. Barbeque is a well-defined set of things: smoked, pulled, chopped pork, with slaw, hush puppies, French fries, and sweet tea. These things constitute an organic whole. You can no more have barbecue without these than you would order, “Cheese steak, with swiss” in Philadelphia.

Vinegar or tomato sauce? Don’t discuss it. Marriages, even friendships, have ended over this. Side with the host, and keep your mouth too full to respond to appeals from either faction. You can take a stand on mustard-based sauce, however: no. If you accidentally ask for mustard, use it for hair gel and say, “Look at me! I’m Cameron Diaz!”

As for me: I don’t know how to drive in snow, I have a very fat dog, and I never blow my car horn at all.

Monday, January 23, 2006

Controlling Legal Authority, Deux

So, we get an answer from the Supreme Court, right? I earlier argued that no one knows what the heck the law is, and that all by itself is really bad for potential and current candidates. You can't CAMPAIGN without (maybe) breaking the law.

According to the NYTimes, here is what happened today:

WASHINGTON, Jan. 23 - The Supreme Court signaled a willingness today to revisit its landmark 2003 decision on the use of money in political campaigns, directing a lower court to reconsider a ruling against a Wisconsin anti-abortion group.

In a unanimous, unsigned opinion only three pages long, the justices told a three-judge federal court panel in Washington to take another look at the suit brought by the group, the Wisconsin Right to Life organization. The justices said that the 2003 decision "did not purport to resolve" all future challenges to the legislation.

The justices' decision, coming only a week after they heard the case, could indicate that the issue of campaign finance will soon be back before them as the Supreme Court goes through a period of transition.

At issue is a section of the Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act of 2002, more familiarly known as the McCain-Feingold law, after its main sponsors, Senators John S. McCain, Republican of Arizona, and Russell D. Feingold, Democrat of Wisconsin.

The law was a reaction to at least three decades worth of heated debate over how money, sometimes called "the mother's milk of politics," should be raised and spent during political campaigns. Underlying the debate were charges that money has often been a corrupting influence in the political process - and counter-arguments that restrictions on campaign spending and advertising violated First Amendment rights of free speech and association.

On Dec. 11, 2003, the Supreme Court ruled, 5 to 4, that the core of the McCain-Feingold law was constitutional. Part of the law established a new category of "electioneering communications," or television ads that refer to specific candidates for federal office and that are broadcast in the relevant market within 30 days of a primary election or 60 days of a general election.


Sigh. Here we don't go again. The current situation is unworkable. When Alito is on the court, the whole thing may come crashing down, and we'll be back at Buckley v. Valeo.

I'm From the Government, and I'm Here to Help You!

Story by Toby Coleman in this morning's News and Observer (the primary paper of the Triangle Area)

If everything goes as planned, Morrisville's commissioners will put their final stamp of approval on a plan to give Chinese computer maker Lenovo $1,050,000 in tax breaks at their public meeting tonight.

Really, though, they OK'd the deal in secret last August, months before they told a single taxpayer.

Morrisville's secrecy is allowed; North Carolina lawmakers have not given the public the right to participate in discussions on how much, if any, taxpayer money their government should offer companies in the form of economic incentives.

Although the town's commissioners had to hold a public hearing in December before they could set the deal in stone, the town staff considered it more of a "formality" than anything else, according to commission documents.

Town officials kept the deal secret for 59 days, until Gov. Mike Easley announced on Oct. 27 that Lenovo would move to Morrisville and get $14 million in incentives from the state, Wake County and the town.

It was not easy to keep the deal under wraps. At one point Town Manager John Whitson even felt compelled to suggest in an Oct. 5 e-mail message that town employees could sidestep questions about the offer by saying that they were "not aware" of any plans "that may or may not be related to this or any other potential economic development incentives proposal."

So why did the town go to such verbose extremes? Well, Lenovo wanted it that way, according to Whitson. And besides, "we certainly would not reveal our hands to our competitors who are also courting the company to their towns," he said.

Critics, meanwhile, say the practice hurts the public's confidence in government.

"It's really troubling from a public policy standpoint to have business conducted this way," said former state Supreme Court Justice Robert Orr, one of the lawyers suing to stop governments from wooing companies with tax breaks. "It gives government and government officials a black eye."


Successful public officials need only two qualifications--
1. A complete absence of self doubt
2. An absolute incapacity for shame

So, for government officials, at any level, to ask us to depend on forebearance to curb corruption is not just foolish, but outrageous.

Here is the scorecard for the kind of corporate welfare that passes as "incentives":

1. Local businesses: Have paid taxes, and employed citizens, for years. Yet their tax dollars are taken to be used to subsidize land, and reduce costs, for competitors. Sorry, suckers, we only care about the NEW girl in town.

2. Taxpayers: Net loss, sometimes a huge net loss. In the case of sports teams, or "public" arenas, it's like taking local taxpayers by the heels and shaking them until even the lint falls out of their pockets.

3. Workers: a wash. This kind of economic prostitution focuses on outside companies, instead of building a comprehensive infrastructure of low cost, high productivity work force, roads, and communications. So, a few workers (many imported from other states) get high paying jobs. Some local workers get temporary construction jobs, and maybe even permanent jobs. But the long term effects are negligible.

4. Politicians: the only real winners here. They get to claim credit for bringing in big new businesses. Shining, happy people holding hands. Get reelected.

Maybe time for a Steve Miller riff: the politician knows exactly what the facts is. He ain't gonna let those companies escape locating here. He makes his living off of the people's taxes. (sure, the rhyme and meter don't work, but consider the original)