Sunday, September 11, 2011

Sunday Reading

Get to Work — The Miami Herald opines that it’s time to pass the bill.

At the moment, there’s a vicious cycle fueled by lack of confidence in America’s national leaders. After the sorry spectacle of the debt ceiling crisis, many Americans believe Washington is dysfunctional. Poll after poll shows Congress and the president have lost so much support among ordinary Americans that they no longer enjoy the confidence of the electorate, and this lack of confidence contributes to the uncertainty over the future that paralyzes economic growth.

The editor in chief of the Gallup Poll puts it this way: “There is a negative mood abroad in the general American consciousness at this juncture in history, and this negative mood is affecting Americans’ views in a very general way.”

For the president, this means that speeches aren’t enough. First, he has to go out in the country and sell his plan to the American people, convincing voters it’s more than a reelection plan. Then he must follow through with the difficult legislative politics, a hallmark of any effective president.

More below the fold.

All About the Show — The National Theatre of Britain proves that if you remove the profit motive, you can go great things on stage.

WHEN artists at the National Theater here began creating their World War I drama “War Horse” five years ago, they placed cardboard boxes over the heads of actors to imagine stand-ins for the show’s horse puppets, which were still being designed. “The whole thing looked a little nuts,” Nicholas Hytner, who was producing the work as artistic director of the National, recalled recently. “We had no idea what we were going to get.”

What the National did have, however, was an extraordinary safety net provided by the British government: an annual subsidy that today provides 28 percent of the National’s income: £19.6 million, or about $31.6 million. Such public support made it far easier to take artistic risks, Mr. Hytner said, “because we knew we could create work that we believed in without worrying 24 hours a day about ticket sales like so many American theaters have to.”


Mr. Hytner emphasized that he was not overly nervous about the budget because the unexpected success of “War Horse” had provided a new financial cushion to the National. But he said he did not want the National to fall into the habit — as is common among nonprofit and commercial theater producers in the United States — of trying to generate hit after hit on its three stages, where about 20 productions are now mounted each year.

“We have never — not once — produced a show because we think there might be a commercial future for it, literally never,” said Mr. Hytner, 55, sitting in his relatively unadorned office, where a sweeping view of the Thames River was the dominant visual. “And I would get incredibly uncomfortable about producing that way here. I think we’ve had artistic success here partly because the pressure for success is so low. By comparison, in New York, the pressure leading up to opening night — the life-or-deathness of it all — is just a bit much.

“What we’ve sought to do with our work is to be ambitious and very popular, not because we want to be commercial, but because those were the goals of theater that sprung from the south bank of this river 400 years ago,” he continued, referring to the era of Shakespeare and the original Globe Theater, which stood not far from the National’s complex. “I’ve always had an impresario’s interest in developing productions — whether new or old — that would be as interesting as possible to as many people as possible.”

The Cult of the Buff — A gym in Salt Lake City is the home of the gym that turns ordinary people and movie stars into muscle gods.

Inside an unmarked warehouse here, not far from a depressing stretch of fast-food joints and the Southern X-Posure strip club, Robert MacDonald — nickname: Maximus — is torturing a group of people.

Or at least that’s how it looks. One man, howling in agony a second ago, has collapsed in a pool of sweat. A woman wipes away tears. A few of the rest are limping.

Maximus is not sympathetic. After all, they had been warned. It’s right there on the Web site: “You were free to choose and you did. Now lie in it.”

This is Gym Jones, a no-frills private club that caters to extreme fitness buffs, professional athletes, the military’s special operations and — on the opposite end of the pampered scale but only slightly less secretive — movie stars. (Jude Law didn’t get those contoured pectorals in “Repo Men” by accident.)

Yes, the name is an overt nod to Jim Jones, the sect leader who steered more than 900 people to suicide in 1978. No, the couple that owns the gym, Lisa and Mark Twight, don’t see anything obnoxious about that. “We knew some people would call us a cult,” Ms. Twight said, “so we decided to own the joke.”

The zealous devotion clients have toward the gym and its fitness philosophy, which turns as much on psychology as it does on physicality, can indeed be a little frightening. Picture Scientologists, except with really big biceps.

Doonesbury — He was there.