Sunday, December 11, 2011

Sunday Reading

A Good Year — Stewart M. Patrick at the Council on Foreign Relations says 2011 was a banner year for human rights around the world.

2011 was an extraordinary year for human rights. Millions of people staked new claims to human rights in the Arab Spring, the ruling junta of Myanmar suddenly freed political prisoners and hosted the U.S. Secretary of State, and three women shared the Nobel Peace Prize for fighting for women’s empowerment. This Friday, the United Nations Human Rights Council will commemorate Human Rights Day 2011, on the anniversary of the adoption of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights–which has earned the honor of being the most universal document in the world after being translated into 380 languages.

However, human rights principles remain notoriously difficult to enforce and remain a huge source of controversy in world politics. Many governments resist their application, and U.S. officials themselves struggle to integrate these concerns into broader foreign policy objectives.

To shed light on what citizens (as opposed to leaders) around the world actually think about human rights, the IIGG program and (WPO) have just released the third installment of our updated digests of Public Opinion on Global Issues. The results show dramatic international consensus backing fundamental human rights.

Willard’s Glass Jaw — Charlie Pierce sums up last night’s debate in Iowa.

All week, I kept hearing that this was going to be the debate in which Newt Gingrich would have that big old bulls-eye on that big old rump of his. Well, it was. And did any of these other mutts lay a glove on him? Newt smoothly swatted away Willard’s snarkery about his futurism concerning mining bases on the moon, and he even stuck up for NASA, which hardly anyone ever does any more. (Of course, he did talk about going back into space in an “entrepreneurial way.” I now fear the sight of starships that look like Carl Edwards’s No. 99 Ford, and don’t think Newt hasn’t thought about that.) The best, and most telling question, came in over the transom from some viewer who asked about marital fidelity.

“I’ve said I’ve made mistakes,” said Newt, who got to go last, after all the other candidates got to talk about their rock-solid monogamy, “I have had to go to god for forgiveness. I have had to seek reconciliation.”

It’s almost hard to overstate what a perfect answer this is, especially for the religious conservatives of all faiths who are so vital to the Iowa Republican base. Everybody in the country knows that Newt had a chronic staff-banging problem during his political career. Newt gave the Protestants what they wanted about going to “God for forgiveness,” and he took a bow toward his newfound Catholicism by talking about “seeking reconciliation,” which is what we Papists call confession now that the sacrament of penance is the sacrament of… wait for it… reconciliation. Quite simply, there is no other candidate on this stage that could’ve pulled that one off. (Rick Perry might have sprained an ankle trying.) And the way he smoothly doubled down on the (frankly bigoted) notion of the Palestinians being “an invented people” by attaching himself to Ronald Reagan speaking plainly to the Soviet Union was a nearly perfect amalgam of spurious history and big clanging brass ones. Ask yourself now: Who in either party is going to speak up for the Palestinians without hemming and hawing the way everyone else on the stage did? That’s a double-dare that’s more of a challenge than Willard’s willingness to put some of his boutonniere money in the middle of the table.

I warned you more than once that Willard had a glass jaw. You’re seeing it now. He’s had five years and two election cycles to come up with a coherent defense of his health-care plan in Massachusetts that will work on a national stage and he still doesn’t have one. (By comparison, of course, Newt as much as admitted in an answer to a sharp attack from La Bachmann, who had her best night in three months, that his support of an individual mandate in 1993 was a cynical maneuver aimed at killing the proposed Clinton health-care reforms.) Now he’s out there babbling about the 10th Amendment. “States can do whatever the heck they want!” Willard blurted toward the end.

A Look Backstage Off-Off-Broadway — A collection at the New York Public Library takes us back to the time when theatre was performed in tiny places like Caffe Cino with plays by the likes of Edward Albee and Lanford Wilson.

Joseph Cino didn’t set out to be a pioneer. He began presenting plays at his Cornelia Street cafe on a whim, as an offshoot of the poetry readings that expressed his desire to create a place where artistic types would want to spend time. A dreamer and newcomer to Manhattan by way of Buffalo, he opened that establishment, Caffe Cino, in 1958 and over time became a veritable spokesman for the intimate and uncommercial productions mounted on its shabby, makeshift stage.

Throughout the 1960s playwrights like Lanford Wilson, Sam Shepard, John Guare, Robert Patrick, Robert Heide, H. M. Koutoukas, Tom Eyen and Doric Wilson presented their earliest works at the cafe, now commonly considered the birthplace of Off Off Broadway theater. “It was so exciting and so necessary and fed so many people,” said the playwright Edward Albee, who, despite gaining success on his own in those early Cino years, spent a lot of time there.

Though books like “Caffe Cino: The Birthplace of Off Off Broadway,” by Wendell C. Stone, and “Playing Underground,” by Stephen J. Bottoms, have chronicled what went on at 31 Cornelia Street from 1958 to 1968, a recent gift to the New York Public Library for the Performing Arts will make more Cino memorabilia available to the public. Magie Dominic, a writer and artist who performed and directed at the Cino, donated an assortment of programs, scripts, photographs and other items. The collection, part of the library’s Billy Rose Theater Division, will be available for public viewing early next year. (Some selected items are already on display.)

An after-hours photograph from 1967, above, with Ms. Dominic, second from left, captures the spirit of the Cino: a tiny place where actors could easily step on the toes of audience members if they weren’t careful, and where props and pictures from previous shows crowded the walls.

The library has collected other Off Off Broadway memorabilia, including posters by the artist Kenny Burgess, photographs by James Gossage and papers from Mr. Patrick, but Ms. Dominic’s meticulously organized trove solidifies the holdings, said Karen Nickeson, the curator of the theater division. The eight binders stuffed with items, carefully arranged chronologically, will allow a viewer to peruse the Cino decade.

Doonesbury — Red riding books.