Sunday, March 26, 2006

Sunday Reading

  • Peter Birkenhead explores his life as an unfamous actor.

    I am not one of those “old friend” actors. I’m not a star — I’m not even a “name.” But I’m not an extra either. Actors like me occupy the space in people’s minds reserved for utility infielders, station wagons and pizza places. For most people, actors are divided into two groups: Martin Sheen and furniture. You’re part of the pantheon or part of the scenery.

    When I was young I studied with Uta Hagen, who wrote the seminal actor’s handbook “Respect for Acting.” And that’s what my friends and I wanted back then: respect, for acting. That and girls. We very much wanted our work to be well thought of, admired, but we also wanted to be famous. Not too famous. Just enough to get sex, but not stalked. Theater famous.

    Mostly we just wanted to act. I know that may be hard to believe, but when you do it semi-right, acting is actually about getting away from your ego. It’s like riding a rocket away from your ego and becoming weightless. And the two things you’re incapable of when you’re floating up there are thinking and caring what other people think. Any actor who has ever taken even a few baby steps in the direction of that stupid delight knows how close to perfection it feels — and also how much sex and respect it gets you afterward.

  • Katrina Vanden Heuvel invokes Godwin’s Law and suggests we move beyond it.

    Here’s a modest proposal for improving national political discussion: Stop equating our opponents with famous dictators, their chief executioners, police apparatus or ideologies. I’m all for learning from history, but times are hard enough in American politics — with war, threats to national security, the greatest divide between rich and poor in our history and deep cultural divisions. Present differences deserve to be described in contemporary terms. The purpose of public speech is not just to restate anger but to clarify the principles and evidence that fuel it — in ways that invite discussion, not inhibit it.

  • Roberta deBoer of the Toledo Blade reports on the waste of Red Cross volunteers here in Miami.

    A bleak week for the American Red Cross. Already defending its post-Katrina performance, the agency faces new charges of sweeping “impropriety among volunteers,” including missing rental cars, generators, and cash.

    Even its interim president conceded that some volunteers’ actions might be criminal.

    But Toledoan Bonnie Edinger has already been long soured on the Red Cross.

    The first-time volunteer was sent to help out in Miami last fall after Hurricane Wilma’s romp through south Florida. Calling herself “not a person who ever rocks the boat,” Ms. Edinger nevertheless felt she had to speak up – with a caveat.

    “This is just my experience,” she made a point of saying. “I’ve heard other people come back and say something completely different.”

    Besides round-trip airfare and a rental car, she said the Red Cross gave her and fellow volunteers rooms in a Miami Beach hotel with “a balcony with a skyline view, a kitchenette, and $900 on a debit card” for a 10-day stint that got cut short.

    Assigned to work in an evacuation shelter, she said, “Basically, I did nothing. We were just stumbling over each other, trying to find something to do … and they didn’t seem to know what to do with us.”

    Just so you know where some of your donations went…