Thursday, December 8, 2016

Monday, November 28, 2016

Short Takes

Trump says he would have won the popular vote if millions hadn’t voted “illegally.”

Bernie Sanders tells GOP to can it about the recount objections.

Gun sales to blacks, minorities soar after Trump’s election.

South Korean leader digs in amid calls for impeachment.

R.I.P. Ron Glass, 71, Detective Harris on Barney Miller; Florence Henderson, Mrs. Brady of The Brady Bunch.

Tuesday, November 15, 2016

Gwen Ifill — 1955-2016

Via PBS Newshour:

It is with extremely heavy hearts that we must share that our dear friend and beloved colleague Gwen Ifill passed away this afternoon following several months of cancer treatment. She was surrounded by loving family and many friends whom we ask that you keep in your thoughts and prayers.

A note from Sara Just, PBS NewsHour executive producer and WETA SVP

“Gwen was a standard bearer for courage, fairness and integrity in an industry going through seismic change. She was a mentor to so many across the industry and her professionalism was respected across the political spectrum. She was a journalist’s journalist and set an example for all around her.

So many people in the audience felt that they knew and adored her. She had a tremendous combination of warmth and authority. She was stopped on the street routinely by people who just wanted to give her a hug and considered her a friend after years of seeing her on tv.

We will forever miss her terribly.”

We all will.

Monday, November 14, 2016

Friday, November 11, 2016

Tuesday, November 8, 2016

Sunday, October 2, 2016

Thursday, September 29, 2016

Short Takes

Congress overrides veto to allow suits against Saudi Arabia.

Congress passes short-term funding measure.

Sudan accused of using chemical weapons on civilians.

President Obama will lead the U.S. delegation to Peres funeral.

Tropical Update: TS Matthew keeps on track in the Caribbean toward Cuba.

The Tigers beat Cleveland 6-3.

Wednesday, September 28, 2016

Short Takes

R.I.P. Shimon Peres, one of the founding fathers of Israel and Nobel Peace Prize winner.

The Senate’s attempt to pass a government spending bill was blocked.

Over 83 million tuned in to watch the Clinton-Trump debate.

Consumer confidence in September rose to its highest level in nine years.

The Houston shooter was a big fan of the Third Reich.

Elon Musk wants to launch a mission to Mars.

Tropical Update: Invest 97L is east of the Lesser Antilles and could head west.

Monday, September 26, 2016

Short Takes

Miami Marlins ace pitcher Jose Fernandez was killed in a boating accident.

Charlotte shooting videos released.

Floodwaters could swamp parts of northeast Iowa this week.

UN takes no action in Syria amid arguments over Aleppo.

Debate prep continues.

R.I.P. Arnold Palmer, 87, legendary golfer.

The Tigers split with KC this weekend; the wild card spot is fading away.

Tropical Update: Invest 97L develops.

Saturday, September 17, 2016

Edward Albee — 1928-2016

Alas, we will be planting yet another tree in the playwright’s garden at the Inge Festival next spring. We have lost a great voice of truth and raw humanity.

Edward Albee, widely considered the foremost American playwright of his generation, whose psychologically astute and piercing dramas explored the contentiousness of intimacy, the gap between self-delusion and truth and the roiling desperation beneath the facade of contemporary life, died Friday at his home in Montauk, N.Y. He was 88.

His personal assistant, Jakob Holder, confirmed the death. Mr. Holder said he had died after a short illness.

Mr. Albee’s career began after the death of Eugene O’Neill and after Arthur Miller and Tennessee Williams had produced most of their best-known plays.From them he inherited the torch of American drama, carrying it through the era of Tony Kushner and “Angels in America” and into the 21st century.

He introduced himself suddenly and with a bang, in 1959, when his first produced play, “The Zoo Story,”opened in Berlin on a double bill with Samuel Beckett’s “Krapp’s Last Tape.” A two-handed one-act that unfolds in real time, “The Zoo Story” zeroed in on the existential terror at the heart of Eisenhower-era complacency, presenting the increasingly menacing intrusion of a probing, querying stranger on a man reading on a Central Park bench.

When the play came to the Provincetown Playhouse in Greenwich Village the next year, it helped propel the burgeoning theater movement that became known as Off Broadway.

In 1962, Mr. Albee’s Broadway debut, “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?”, the famously scabrous portrait of a withered marriage, won a Tony Award for best play, ran for more than a year and half and enthralled and shocked theatergoers with its depiction of stifling academia and of a couple whose relationship has been corroded by dashed hopes, wounding recriminations and drink.

Edward Albee was the honoree at the William Inge Festival in 1991, my first year there.  I was sitting in the lobby of the Apple Tree Inn on the first morning of the festival and in he walked in a sweatsuit; he’d been out for a walk or a jog.  I nervously introduced myself and he smiled and sat down on the couch next to me.  I have no idea what we talked about; I was still in shock that I was sitting in a hotel lobby in the middle of Kansas chatting with one of the most important writers of the 20th century.  We chatted for a few minutes, then he patted me on the thigh and went back to his room.

Just about everyone knows “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?” because of the film with Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton, but the play in its immediacy and brutality works best on the stage when you can’t look away or change the channel.  His other works — “The Zoo Story,” “A Delicate Balance,” “Three Tall Women,” and his short pieces — are just as honest and tightly wound.  Albee never used a paragraph where a word would do, and he used them to define his characters and places with exacting detail.

I know a lot of playwrights of my generation see him as a mentor and an inspiration even if they do not see the world as he did.  I admired him when I was learning about writing plays, and to this day I still read his works with awe.  I followed a different path in my writing, but I think that’s one thing I learned from his works: we are on our own with our own thoughts, and find our own way to share them.

Tuesday, September 6, 2016

Phyllis Schlafly Dead

Via the St. Louis Post-Dispatch:

Phyllis Schlafly, a political force who fought against the feminist causes and helped pave the way for today’s thriving conservatism movement, has died.

Ed Martin, chief spokesman for Phyllis Schlafly and president of the Eagle Forum, said that Schlafly died at 3:30 p.m. Monday at her home in Ladue with her family around her.

Martin said that Schlafly had some health issues over the last month or two, “A lot of it having to do with being 92.”

Or perhaps the prospect of Hillary Clinton once and for all enacting the ERA was just too much for her.

I don’t believe in the whatever-after, but if there is one, I hope she’s greeted by Matthew Shepard and Divine.

Monday, August 29, 2016

Gene Wilder — 1933-2016

The world got a little more gloomier today.

With his haunted blue eyes and an empathy born of his own history of psychic distress, he aspired to touch audiences much as Charlie Chaplin had. The Chaplin film “City Lights,” he said, had “made the biggest impression on me as an actor; it was funny, then sad, then both at the same time.”

Mr. Wilder was an accomplished stage actor as well as a screenwriter, a novelist and the director of four movies in which he starred. (He directed, he once said, “in order to protect what I wrote, which I wrote in order to act.”) But he was best known for playing roles on the big screen that might have been ripped from the pages of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders.

He made his movie debut in 1967 in Arthur Penn’s celebrated crime drama, “Bonnie and Clyde,” in which he was memorably hysterical as an undertaker kidnapped by the notorious Depression-era bank robbers played by Faye Dunaway and Warren Beatty. He was even more hysterical, and even more memorable, a year later in “The Producers,” Mr. Brooks’s first film and the basis of his later Broadway hit.

Mr. Wilder played the security-blanket-clutching accountant Leo Bloom, who discovers how to make more money on a bad Broadway show than a good one: Find rich backers, stage a production that’s guaranteed to fold fast, then flee the country with the leftover cash. Unhappily for Bloom and his fellow schemer Max Bialystock, played by Zero Mostel, their outrageously tasteless musical, “Springtime for Hitler,” is a sensation.

The part earned Mr. Wilder an Academy Award nomination for best supporting actor. Within a few years the anxious, frizzy haired, popeyed Mr. Wilder had become an unlikely movie star.

He was nominated for a Golden Globe for his performance as the wizardly title character in “Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory” (1971). The film was a box-office disappointment, in part because of parental concern that the moral of Roald Dahl’s story — greedy, gluttonous children should not go unpunished — was too dark in the telling. But it went on to gain a devoted following, and Willy Wonka remains one of the roles with which Mr. Wilder is most closely identified.

His next role was more adult but equally strange: an otherwise normal doctor who falls in love with a sheep named Daisy in a segment of Woody Allen’s “Everything You Always Wanted to Know About Sex but Were Afraid to Ask” in 1972. Two years later, he reunited with Mr. Brooks for perhaps the two best-known entries in either man’s filmography.

In “Blazing Saddles,” a raunchy, no-holds-barred spoof of Hollywood westerns, Mr. Wilder had the relatively quiet role of the Waco Kid, a boozy ex-gunfighter who helps an improbable black sheriff (Cleavon Little) save a town from railroad barons and venal politicians. The film’s once-daring humor may have lost some of its edge over the years, but Mr. Wilder’s next Brooks film, “Young Frankenstein,” has never grown old.

Mr. Wilder himself hatched the idea, envisioning a black-and-white film faithful to the look of the Boris Karloff “Frankenstein” down to the laboratory equipment, but played for laughs rather than horror. He would portray an American man of science, the grandson of the infamous Dr. Frankenstein, who tries to turn his back on his heritage (“that’s Frahn-kahn-SHTEEN”) but finds himself irresistibly drawn to Transylvania to duplicate his grandfather’s creation of a monster in a spooky mountaintop laboratory.

Mr. Brooks’s original reaction to the idea, Mr. Wilder recalled, was noncommittal: “Cute. That’s cute.” But he eventually came aboard as director and co-writer, and the two garnered an Oscar nomination for their screenplay.

Rest in peace.

Wednesday, August 24, 2016

Short Takes

President Obama tells Baton Rouge “You are not alone.”

Clinton continues big lead over Trump.

New Zika outbreak found in St. Petersburg.

Federal court upholds cut in Ohio early voting.

Tropical Update: Invest 99L is moving west.

The Tigers beat the Twins 8-3.

R.I.P. Steven Hill, 94, actor best remembered as D.A. Adam Schiff for ten seasons on Law & Order.

Thursday, August 18, 2016

Short Takes

Louisiana is going to get more rain.

California wildfires forced more than 82,000 people out of their homes.

A high-ranking diplomat from North Korea has defected to South Korea.

Russia is using an air base in Iran to bomb Syrian targets.

R.I.P. Arthur Hiller, 92, director of “Love Story.”

Tropical Update: TS Fiona forms in the North Atlantic.

Wednesday, August 17, 2016

Short Takes

Death toll from Louisiana flooding reaches 10.

Convicted Pennsylvania Attorney General Kathleen Kane resigns.

Aetna Insurance drops out of Obamacare.

July was the hottest month on record.

North Carolina wants the Supreme Court to put a hold on voter I.D. ruling.

R.I.P. John McLaughlin, 89, right-wing ex-priest Nixon apologist turned TV pundit.  Bye-bye.

Tropical Update: There’s a wave coming off Africa that could develop into something.

Sunday, July 3, 2016

Sunday Reading

A Prayer — From October 1997.  Rest in peace, Elie Wiesel.

Master of the Universe, let us make up. It is time. How long can we go on being angry?

More than 50 years have passed since the nightmare was lifted. Many things, good and less good, have since happened to those who survived it. They learned to build on ruins. Family life was re-created. Children were born, friendships struck. They learned to have faith in their surroundings, even in their fellow men and women. Gratitude has replaced bitterness in their hearts. No one is as capable of thankfulness as they are. Thankful to anyone willing to hear their tales and become their ally in the battle against apathy and forgetfulness. For them every moment is grace.

Oh, they do not forgive the killers and their accomplices, nor should they. Nor should you, Master of the Universe. But they no longer look at every passer-by with suspicion. Nor do they see a dagger in every hand.

Does this mean that the wounds in their soul have healed? They will never heal. As long as a spark of the flames of Auschwitz and Treblinka glows in their memory, so long will my joy be incomplete.

What about my faith in you, Master of the Universe?

I now realize I never lost it, not even over there, during the darkest hours of my life. I don’t know why I kept on whispering my daily prayers, and those one reserves for the Sabbath, and for the holidays, but I did recite them, often with my father and, on Rosh ha-Shanah eve, with hundreds of inmates at Auschwitz. Was it because the prayers remained a link to the vanished world of my childhood?

But my faith was no longer pure. How could it be? It was filled with anguish rather than fervor, with perplexity more than piety. In the kingdom of eternal night, on the Days of Awe, which are the Days of Judgment, my traditional prayers were directed to you as well as against you, Master of the Universe. What hurt me more: your absence or your silence?

In my testimony I have written harsh words, burning words about your role in our tragedy. I would not repeat them today. But I felt them then. I felt them in every cell of my being. Why did you allow if not enable the killer day after day, night after night to torment, kill and annihilate tens of thousands of Jewish children? Why were they abandoned by your Creation? These thoughts were in no way destined to diminish the guilt of the guilty. Their established culpability is irrelevant to my ”problem” with you, Master of the Universe. In my childhood I did not expect much from human beings. But I expected everything from you.

Where were you, God of kindness, in Auschwitz? What was going on in heaven, at the celestial tribunal, while your children were marked for humiliation, isolation and death only because they were Jewish?

These questions have been haunting me for more than five decades. You have vocal defenders, you know. Many theological answers were given me, such as: ”God is God. He alone knows what He is doing. One has no right to question Him or His ways.” Or: ”Auschwitz was a punishment for European Jewry’s sins of assimilation and/or Zionism.” And: ”Isn’t Israel the solution? Without Auschwitz, there would have been no Israel.”

I reject all these answers. Auschwitz must and will forever remain a question mark only: it can be conceived neither with God nor without God. At one point, I began wondering whether I was not unfair with you. After all, Auschwitz was not something that came down ready-made from heaven. It was conceived by men, implemented by men, staffed by men. And their aim was to destroy not only us but you as well. Ought we not to think of your pain, too? Watching your children suffer at the hands of your other children, haven’t you also suffered?

As we Jews now enter the High Holidays again, preparing ourselves to pray for a year of peace and happiness for our people and all people, let us make up, Master of the Universe. In spite of everything that happened? Yes, in spite. Let us make up: for the child in me, it is unbearable to be divorced from you so long.

Liberals Need White Men — Eric Levitz in New York on why Democrats ignore the white working class at their peril.

A specter haunts the left’s last bastions of white working-class support — the specter of right-wing populism. As the New York Times’ Nate Cohn notes, outside of London, Labour’s working-class districts bucked their party’s leadership by voting for a Brexit campaign led by right-wing nationalists. Recent elections in Austria, Denmark, and Germany have produced a similar pattern; in all three countries, working-class areas that once voted with the Social Democrats or the center-left embraced far-right populists who promised to stem the tide of globalization.

Donald Trump has brought his own idiosyncratic brand of reactionary populism to our shores. And it’s playing well in the Democrats’ white working-class strongholds. According to Cohn, Trump’s most reliable voters in the GOP primary were “self-identified Republicans who nonetheless remain registered as Democrats.” On Tuesday, the presumptive GOP nominee made it clear that his general-election campaign will be aimed squarely at these voters. Contradicting decades of conservative free-market doctrine, Trump debuted a seven-point plan for reviving domestic manufacturing through trade protection.

Even if this message resonates with its target audience, current polling suggests Trump will have a tough time winning in November. But if issues of globalization continue to gain political salience, it could drive a wedge between the Democratic Party’s white working-class voters — who disproportionately favor restricting immigration — and the rest of the party’s base, which has been moving steadily toward an embrace of open borders. This is no small threat to Team Blue: White voters without college degrees made up a full 34 percent of the Obama coalition in 2012.

Liberals can’t give these voters what they want (in the aggregate) on immigration. To retain the party’s current share of the demographic, Democrats will need to make their economic pitch more salient than the right-wing’s nationalist appeals. There are many ways to go about this task. But a good first step would be to stop insinuating that non–college educated workers are destined to live miserable lives because their skills are obsolete.

If that strikes you as something liberals never do, you should listen to last week’s edition of Slate’s Political Gabfest podcast. During a discussion on the links between Brexit-backers and the Trumpian proletariat, NPR’s economics reporter Adam Davidson offered the following explanation for right-wing populism’s current appeal:

I know Hillary Clinton’s economic team fairly well, and I’m very impressed by them. They really are top-notch economists and economic policy thinkers. They don’t have anything for a 55-year-old laid-off factory worker in Michigan or northeastern Pennsylvania. Or whatever. They don’t have anything to offer them. And so I think it’s intuitively understandable that a screaming, loud, wrong answer is more compelling than a calm, reasonable, accurate, right answer: Your life is going to be worse for the rest of your life — but don’t worry, these hipsters in Brooklyn are doing much better.

[…] The threshold for wages has gone up. There was a long period in the 20th century where, simply being willing to go to a building reliably everyday for eight hours or 12 hours and do what you’re told was worth a lot. […] And you didn’t need to read, you didn’t need to write, you didn’t need to have any kind of education. Those jobs are all but fully gone. […] So in this country, we don’t have demand for the high-school-only graduates and the high-school dropouts we have, and that’s a big population. Something like 80 million people.

The “accurate, right answer” is that your life is going to get worse because you’ve fallen beneath the threshold for wages. This is how a well-sourced reporter summarizes the consensus of the Democratic nominee’s policy team. And we wonder why so many voters disdain elite expertise.

The Origins of Mordor — Joseph Loconte on what inspired J.R.R. Tolkien to create his mythological Hell.

In the summer of 1916, a young Oxford academic embarked for France as a second lieutenant in the British Expeditionary Force. The Great War, as World War I was known, was only half-done, but already its industrial carnage had no parallel in European history.

“Junior officers were being killed off, a dozen a minute,” recalled J. R. R. Tolkien. “Parting from my wife,” he wrote, doubting that he would survive the trenches, “was like a death.”

The 24-year-old Tolkien arrived in time to take part in the Battle of the Somme, a campaign intended to break the stalemate between the Allies and Central Powers. It did not.

The first day of the battle, July 1, produced a frenzy of bloodletting. Unaware that its artillery had failed to obliterate the German dugouts, the British Army rushed to slaughter.

Before nightfall, 19,240 British soldiers — Prime Minister David Lloyd George called them “the choicest and best of our young manhood” — lay dead. That day, 100 years ago, remains the most lethal in Britain’s military history.

Though the debt is largely overlooked, Tolkien’s supreme literary achievement, “The Lord of the Rings,” owes a great deal to his experience at the Somme. Reaching the front shortly after the offensive began, Tolkien served for four months as a battalion signals officer with the 11th Lancashire Fusiliers in the Picardy region of France.

Using telephones, flares, signal lights, pigeons and runners, he maintained communications between the army staff directing the battles from the rear and the officers in the field. According to the British historian Martin Gilbert, who interviewed Tolkien decades later about his combat experience, he came under intense enemy fire. He had heard “the fearful cries of men who had been hit,” Gilbert wrote. “Tolkien and his signalers were always vulnerable.”

Tolkien’s creative mind found an outlet. He began writing the first drafts of his mythology about Middle-earth, as he recalled, “by candle light in bell-tents, even some down in dugouts under shell fire.” In 1917, recuperating from trench fever, Tolkien composed a series of tales involving “gnomes,” dwarves and orcs engaged in a great struggle for his imaginary realm.

In the rent earth of the Somme Valley, he laid the foundation of his epic trilogy.

The descriptions of battle scenes in “The Lord of the Rings” seem lifted from the grim memories of the trenches: the relentless artillery bombardment, the whiff of mustard gas, the bodies of dead soldiers discovered in craters of mud. In the Siege of Gondor, hateful orcs are “digging, digging lines of deep trenches in a huge ring,” while others maneuver “great engines for the casting of missiles.”

On the path to Mordor, stronghold of Sauron, the Dark Lord, the air is “filled with a bitter reek that caught their breath and parched their mouths.” Tolkien later acknowledged that the Dead Marshes, with their pools of muck and floating corpses, “owe something to Northern France after the Battle of the Somme.”

In a lecture delivered in 1939, “On Fairy-Stories,” Tolkien explained that his youthful love of mythology had been “quickened to full life by war.” Yet he chose not to write a war memoir, and in this he departed from contemporaries like Robert Graves and Vera Brittain.

In the postwar years, the Somme exemplified the waste and futility of battle, symbolizing disillusionment not only with war, but with the very idea of heroism. As a professor of Anglo-Saxon back at Oxford, Tolkien preferred the moral landscape of Arthur and Beowulf. His aim was to produce a modern version of the medieval quest: an account of both the terrors and virtues of war, clothed in the language of myth.

In “The Lord of the Rings,” we meet Frodo Baggins and Samwise Gamgee, Hobbits of the Shire, on a fateful mission to destroy the last Ring of Power and save Middle-earth from enslavement and destruction. The heroism of Tolkien’s characters depends on their capacity to resist evil and their tenacity in the face of defeat. It was this quality that Tolkien witnessed among his comrades on the Western Front.

“I have always been impressed that we are here, surviving, because of the indomitable courage of quite small people against impossible odds,” he explained. The Hobbits were “a reflection of the English soldier,” made small of stature to emphasize “the amazing and unexpected heroism of ordinary men ‘at a pinch.’ ”

When the Somme offensive was finally called off in November 1916, a total of about 1.5 million soldiers were dead or wounded. Winston Churchill, who served on the front lines as a lieutenant colonel, criticized the campaign as “a welter of slaughter.” Two of Tolkien’s closest friends, Robert Gilson and Ralph Payton, perished in the battle, and another, Geoffrey Smith, was killed shortly afterward.

Beside the courage of ordinary men, the carnage of war seems also to have opened Tolkien’s eyes to a primal fact about the human condition: the will to power. This is the force animating Sauron, the sorcerer-warlord and great enemy of Middle-earth. “But the only measure that he knows is desire,” explains the wizard Gandalf, “desire for power.” Not even Frodo, the Ring-bearer and chief protagonist, escapes the temptation.

When Tolkien’s trilogy was published, shortly after World War II, many readers assumed that the story of the Ring was a warning about the nuclear age. Tolkien set them straight: “Of course my story is not an allegory of atomic power, but of power (exerted for domination).”

Even this was not the whole story. For Tolkien, there was a spiritual dimension: In the human soul’s struggle against evil, there was a force of grace and goodness stronger than the will to power. Even in a forsaken land, at the threshold of Mordor, Samwise Gamgee apprehends this: “For like a shaft, clear and cold, the thought pierced him that in the end the Shadow was only a small and passing thing: There was light and high beauty forever beyond its reach.”

Good triumphs, yet Tolkien’s epic does not lapse into escapism. His protagonists are nearly overwhelmed by fear and anguish, even their own lust for power. When Frodo returns to the Shire, his quest at an end, he resembles not so much the conquering hero as a shellshocked veteran. Here is a war story, wrapped in fantasy, that delivers painful truths about the human predicament.

Tolkien used the language of myth not to escape the world, but to reveal a mythic and heroic quality in the world as we find it. Perhaps this was the greatest tribute he could pay to the fallen of the Somme.

Doonesbury — Sameness.

Friday, July 1, 2016

Short Takes

Transgender men and women will now be allowed to serve in the U.S. armed forces.

Iraqi airstrikes hit 200 vehicles carrying ISIS fighters.

Turkish police arrested 13 people in connection with the attack on the Istanbul airport.

Former London mayor Boris Johnson dropped his bid to run for prime minister.

R.I.P. Alvin Toffler, author of Future Shock that basically predicted where we are now.

The Tigers rallied in the ninth to beat the Rays 10-7.

Rabbit, rabbit, rabbit.  Oh, and happy new (fiscal) year.

Wednesday, June 29, 2016

Short Takes

Multiple deaths reported in suicide attack at Istanbul airport.

Deadly train crash in Texas.

Senate Democrats block G.O.P Zika “poison pill” bill.

Trump promises to confront China over trade pacts.

NASA’s Juno probe approaches Jupiter.

R.I.P. Pat Summitt, winningest coach in Division 1 basketball.

The Tigers beat the Marlins 7-5.

Tuesday, June 7, 2016

Short Takes

Supreme Court to hear two death penalty cases.

President Obama is itching to campaign for Hillary Clinton.

Fed Chair Yellen speech suggests that they’re rethinking interest rate hike.

R.I.P. Peter Shaffer, playwright.

Tropical Update: TS Colin triggers a state of emergency in central and panhandle counties in Florida.

The Tigers beat the Blue Jays 11-0.