Sunday, July 11, 2010

Sunday Reading

Beck U — Leonard Pitts has fun with the “facts” of Glenn Beck’s latest venture.

A scene from the near future:

Augustus Merryweather IV glanced up at the tapping on his office door. Harvey Carbunkle stood there in bow tie and shirt sleeves, smiling eagerly from behind horn-rimmed glasses. Augustus sighed. He hated this part of the job. It was never fun to let people go.

He waved the young man to a seat, spoke without preamble. ”Harvey, I’m afraid it’s not working out.”

The eager face fell like a refrigerator from a moving truck. ”You’re firing me?”

”I have no choice. Your work, well…it hasn’t been up to the standard we expect for an editor at Merryweather Publishing. Frankly, I’m surprised. When I saw that you were a graduate of BU, I couldn’t wait to hire you. Boston University turns out some great students.”

”I didn’t go to Boston University,” Harvey said.

”Baylor, then. Still a great school.”

”I didn’t go to Baylor.”

”But your resume says you graduated BU.”

A proud smile. ”Yes, sir. That’s Beck University.”

Augustus was confused. ”I’ve never heard of…”

”Beck University!” said Harvey, the smile widening. ”You know, Glenn Beck? He has that show on CNN. Also, that novel, that other book, that radio program, that standup act, that line of athletic shoes and that cologne. He founded an online university back in 2010 so people could learn the real truth they don’t get in your so-called ‘universities.”’ He made air quotes.

”So, when you rejected that Martin Luther King biography because it didn’t mention how white conservatives started the civil rights movement…”

A sharp nod. ”I learned that at Beck U.”

”And when you told the author of that book on religion that ‘pinko commie’ is the preferred term for preachers who talk about social and economic justice…”

”Beck U.”

”And when you asked why there was no reference to Nazi death panels euthanizing children in that book on healthcare reform…”

”Yes, sir! Beck U.”

Augustus sank back into his chair. ”Beck me,” he muttered.

More below the fold.

Six Months Later — Jonathan Katz reports that the recovery from the earthquake in Haiti is not going well.

CORAIL-CESSELESSE, Haiti — The sun was beating down on the rocky cactus plain when men with machetes came for Menmen Villase, nine months pregnant, shoved her onto her bulging stomach and sliced up the plastic tarp that sheltered her and her four children.

The family was one of thousands of earthquake homeless who had come to this Manhattan-sized stretch of disused sugarcane land between the sea and barren mountains north of Port-au-Prince, seeking refuge from overflowing camps in the city.

But this real estate is earmarked for building a new Haiti. Villase had walked into one of the fights over land, rooted in Haiti’s history of slavery, occupation and upheaval, that have bedeviled recovery in the six months since the earthquake leveled much of the capital and killed as many as 300,000 people.

The government, already weak before the magnitude-7 quake and still hobbled by its aftermath, is trying to build anew in places like Corail-Cesselesse, a nearly empty swath of land that begins about 15 kilometers (9 miles) north of the capital. But the effort is paralyzed by disorganization, bitter rivalries and private deals being struck behind its back.

Multiple families claim title to almost every scrap of real estate. Already one reconstruction official has been forced to step down for steering a public project to his company’s private land at Corail-Cesselesse. Wealthy landowners vow the “new Haiti” will become yet another vast slum unless the government rebuilds on their terms.

Caught in the middle are the homeless, looking to grab a patch of ground from the thugs hired to keep them away. Even facing machetes, Villase had to be dragged from the tarp that was home for her and four children.

“I didn’t want them to take the tent away,” she recalled. “They said, ‘We don’t care. We can rip it up while you’re inside.'”

The Stages of Management — Helen Hunt takes on the role of a lifetime in Our Town.

THERE is precisely one word of dialogue in Thornton Wilder’s “Our Town” that reveals something personal about the play’s Stage Manager, a kind of all-knowing god of Americana who narrates the bittersweet story of small-town life, love and loss. The detail — another character refers to the Stage Manager as “sir” — is telling inasmuch as it underscores the authority that the Stage Manager must convey to deliver heartbreaking truths with full force. And, of course, “sir” confirms that the Stage Manager is a man.

Except when he’s not.

Last week the critically acclaimed Off Broadway production of “Our Town” rotated the Academy Award-wining actress Helen Hunt into the role of the Stage Manager, the fifth performer in the part since the Barrow Street Theater run began 17 months ago. She is also the first female Stage Manager there, and a rare high-profile entry for her sex in the 72-year history of the role, which has included performances by Frank Craven (in the Broadway premiere), Hal Holbrook, Henry Fonda and Paul Newman. Geraldine Fitzgerald is believed to have been the first female Stage Manager, in a production at the Williamstown Theater Festival in 1971.

While the current production was planning to accommodate its new Stage Manager either by rendering that “sir” as an inaudible mutter or dropping it altogether, Ms. Hunt was more preoccupied during rehearsals with the notion of authority the “sir” reflected — specifically, as she put it during a recent interview, “What authority do I have, or does any female actor or male actor have, to say what it means to be human?”

“I’ve answered the question for myself in moments in the play,” Ms. Hunt said over breakfast near her apartment on the Upper West Side. (She lives mostly in Los Angeles.) “Especially the moments when I interact with the two wife-mothers, Mrs. Webb and Mrs. Gibbs, and with Emily,” the doomed young bride who comes to grips with the frailties of life and relationships in the play.

Doonesbury — Mail call.