Wednesday, June 29, 2011

I don't know how much I will be blogging the next two months.  I am enmeshed (embroiled? Immersed?) in a big project for the non-profit I volunteer for.

Also, and I am just going to throw this out there, if any of you are employed by companies that have charitable foundations, I would love it  if you would shoot me an email.

Why you simply can't trust Google results.

Not only is this post the second hit on Google for "children ardent for some desperate glory," this post is the second hit for "Little known American heroes."  I can't help but believing that a lot of the traffic is composed of high school kids doing reports for their history classes.

To state the obvious, the internet sure has changed things.  It's a little disturbing, actually.  It also means I should probably be more careful about how I title my blog posts.

Sunday, June 26, 2011

Midnight in Paris

[This WILL contain spoilers.  A lot of them. You have been warned. Short review: Two thumbs up.  Four stars.  I plan to see it again, which makes it among the better Allen movies for me.]

When he is on his game, no one captures wistful befuddlement better than Woody Allen.  And with his latest movie, Midnight in Paris, he is on his game.  Totally.

The movie concerns a screenwriter and would be novelist, Gil, played by Owen Wilson (in an uncharacteristically restrained performance) who has come to Paris with his fiancee, Inez. He is in love with Paris, its romance and grandeur; a love which Inez -- and her parents -- most emphatically do not share.

Gil longs to have been in Paris in the 20s.  He believes that life was somehow better then, more interesting, less mundane.  And, magically, his wish comes true, at, naturally, midnight.  Midnight in Paris is a fantasy story, albeit with substance at its core.

In his sojourns to the 20s, where he returns night after night, he meets the notables of the era:  Cole Porter, Ernest Hemingway, the Fitzgeralds, and a whole parade of literary and art figures.  (Part of the charm of the movie is trying to identify the characters before they are named:  Look, Salvador Dali! Alice B. Toklas!)  He lives his fantasy fully: at the suggestion of Hemingway, he hands his unfinished novel, which he sees as redemption from his life as a hack Hollywood screenwriter, to Gertrude Stein for review.

At Stein's, he meets a woman named Adriana, played by the incredibly beautiful Marion Cotillard, who has a much less romanticized view of her surroundings than Gil.  She is far, far different from his shallow and materialistic fiancee.  A woman who has slept around the artistic community -- Modigliani, Braque, and when we first meet her she is Pablo Picasso's lover and model -- she longs for what she sees as a gentler, more elegant time: La Belle Epoque, Paris of the 1880s and 90s. At one point the movie becomes an onion: each generation longs for the splendor of a past one.

It is when she gets her wish, and she and Gil are transported back to Maxim's in the 19th century, that Gil realizes the basic flaw in not only her fantasy but his own. Everybody longs for the past, he tells her, but that doesn't mean it is a better place.  Each era has its flaws.  He returns to his own, settling instead for living in the Paris of the new millennium.  (Without his annoying fiancee.)

A lot of reviewers have called this movie a "trifle."  Not in a bad way, but in a light and sweet way.  The movie is that.  It is also funny, thoughtful, and layered.

The only false notes are the characters of Inez, her parents, and her friends Carol and Michael, who are portrayed pretty much as stereotypical ugly Americans. It is not that they are touristy -- Gil himself is described that way -- but that they are unbelievably crass and materialistic. There is nothing wrong with being an American in Paris, the movie seems to say, as long as you are respectful about the city, which is a rather simplistic view of the world.  Inez and Gil are so very different, in fact, you begin to wonder how they could have ever ended up together in the first place.  Paris after your engagement is rather far along the road to discover that your bride-to-be is an empty-headed, mean-spirited harpy.  The characters of Carol and Paul are likewise drawn in very broad strokes.*

I would have rather had more nuanced side characters -- the people surrounding Gil in 2010 seem so much less alive than the ones he meets in the 1920s, which is a shame.  It would have made a very good movie a great movie had Allen chosen to make Gil's compatriots in contemporary Paris more interesting.  It would have made the choice he made to return to the present seem more like one undertaken out of desire than out of a belief that it is the right thing to do and that the past is not always what it seems.

Of all the Woody Allen movies I've seen, to me this  most closely resembles Radio Days, an under-appreciated gem from the 1980s. Both have a wistful nostalgia for time and place: Queens in the 1940s, or Paris in the 20s.  Unlike Radio Days, however, the place and time are not filtered through the protagonist's memory but through his imagination: a subtle difference but an important one. Memory, for all its faults, it a much more reliable source of information.  In some sense, there is a question as to whether Gil's time travel is really happening or whether it only exists in his head.

I think Roger Ebert sums up nicely how I feel about this movie (as he so often does):

Either you connect with it or not. I'm wearying of movies that are for "everybody" — which means, nobody in particular. "Midnight in Paris" is for me, in particular, and that's just fine with moi.

*I would take exception to the terribly pedantic character of Paul, played by the good-as-usual Michael Sheen, except that I've been like that at times.  It made me squirm.

Friday, June 24, 2011

Okay, okay, so I may be wrong.

[Thinking is] what a great many people think they are doing when they are merely rearranging their prejudices.  William James

So, after my sniping about musicals made from non-musical movies*,  I took a look at my iTunes.

Ahem, I may be wrong.

In addition to The Producers, there were Hairspray, Spamalot, La Cage Aux Folles, Mame, 42d Street (the movie had only five songs, the show had 23),  The Kiss of The Spider Woman, and Legally Blonde from the library. Not to mention individual songs from Sunset Boulevard, Victor/Victoria, and Little Shop of Horrors.  And now Sister Act.

And then there is My Fair Lady.  Although  from the George Bernard Shaw play,  it also draws from the 1938 movie Pygmalion starring Leslie Howard.

Okay, okay.  I will now have an open mind, or at least a more open mind.

I still think Mama Mia! is a waste of good stage acreage, though.

*Then there is the issue of making musicals into movies: there is Chicago, and on the other hand there is Rent.

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

I really have no interest in seeing the musical version of Sister Act.  Really.  Partially because I liked the original, and this version has neither Whoopi Goldberg nor Kathy Najimi, and partially because it is a "moviecal." (I have mentioned my probably unwarranted prejudice against musicals made from nonmusical movies, right? Excepting The Producers, of course.)

But I love the message of "Raise Your Voice."*

So, I am going to work on "let[ting] my freak flag fly."  I'll let you guys know how it goes.

*Okay, so I also have fondness for non-classical works sung in Latin.  I'm weird that way.

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Appearances can be deceiving. Or maybe not.

For those of us who talk to ourselves (not to mention the nagging voices in our heads), the evolution of Bluetooth and other hands-free cellular technology has been a godsend.  People see us alone in our cars talking earnestly, and assume we are in the middle of some important business deal, or, in my case, yelling at my children.

Singing in your car is a little tricky.  You need to be subtle, and watch the head movements. Not to mention keeping your shoulders still.

Somehow, I don't think anyone was fooled into thinking I was talking on the phone who saw me in my car this morning, singing along to "Putting It Together"* at the top of  my lungs and gesticulating wildly with the hand that was not gripping the steering wheel.

Back to people thinking I'm crazy.

*"Putting It Together" is a completely brilliant song.  Sondheim does an excellent job of describing a character's predicament and skewering the contemporary art scene at the same time.

Monday, June 20, 2011

Note to Self

At some point, you will be able to write a coherent, intelligent analysis of the Supreme Court's decision in Wal-Mart v. Dukes.  You will be able to discuss what Congress needs to do to make class certification of discrimination claims easier, or even whether that is a good idea.  You will be able to understand whether the commentators who state that this was an entirely predictable and proper result are talking out of their ass or not.

That time is not now.

Damn damn damn damn damn damn damn.

Ten things I've learned ... trite, but true.

 [This is the inspiration for this post.  She did a much better job than I did.]

In Night Watch,  Sam Vimes observe that it wasn't that he wished he knew then what he knows now, more that he wishes he didn't know now what he didn't know then.


But just as you learn the things you don't want to know, you also learn other, more lasting lessons. You learn...

That no one is perfect.  That you can never figure out what a perfect person would be anyway, and that a person's flaws sometimes make them more interesting than their virtues. And that sometimes what you think is a flaw isn't.

That sometimes the people you love will do stupid things.  That they will hurt themselves and others.  And that loving people does not always mean protecting them from themselves.  Sometimes the best thing  for you to do is be there to help them pick up the pieces, not keep them from falling in the first place.

That the people in your life who love you enough let you fail often love you enough to let you succeed on your own terms.

That it takes only a moment's inattention for disaster to strike.  And that you, being human, will sometimes have those moments of inattention, and the results may be catastrophic. You will learn to forgive yourself for not being God, and immune to horrible things happening to you.

That there may people inextricably bound to your life who believe vile things.   Things which make you angry, and sometimes make you want to weep. You may learn to love them anyway, for the things that they believe that are good, and the hope that someday they will learn better.

That the destination does not always live up to the hype. You learn how important it is to appreciate the journey.

That you are never as smart as you thought you were at twenty-five.  Or thirty.  And that you really never were that smart to begin with. But realizing you're not that smart makes the world a much more comfortable place to live in.

That life is rarely simple, and never easy.  Those who tell you otherwise are lying -- either to  themselves or to you. But the fact that life is never simple will make it more interesting, even as it makes it harder. 

That almost the only things in life that are black and white are zebras and crosswalks.

And, finally...

That love in and of itself is not enough.  But it is necessary.

Obsessive? Not really....

I just believe in quality control.  I reread former posts to check for typos, misplaced and repetitive words, and incorrect grammar and capitalization.  I then make corrections.

My Tony post had a lot of errors. I am embarrassed.

You know, Pat, it might be better to do a better job of proofing posts before you publish them.*  Of course, given the way the world is, I am sure that there is an error in this post which I will not see until next week.

[Edited to add: it didn't take a week, merely five hours.  I misspelled "obsessive" in the title of the post.  This has now been corrected.  Sheesh.]

*This is why I always print out things on paper that I need to be particularly careful about.  For some reason, I find it a great deal easier to spot mistakes when they are not on a computer screen.  Spellcheck is particularly annoying:  it can pick up misspellings, but not other errors.

Mea Culpa, Mea Maxima Culpa

I am so so sorry.  Without thinking,  I included a major spoiler in my review of Stephen Sondheim's Company.

I will try and be more careful next time.  I would blame it on the lack of caffeine, but I think I had already had coffee by then.  Of course, it was only half-caf....

Sunday, June 19, 2011

Review: Stephen Sondheim's Company

[EDITED TO ADD:  It has been pointed out to me that I included a MAJOR SPOILER at the end of this review.  Oops.  I'm sorry.]

I have written about my passion for the work of Stephen Sondheim. Last Thursday, I had the opportunity to see one of his seminal plays on stage -- sort of.

What I saw was the film of the production of Company performed with the New York Philharmonic, starring Neil Patrick Harris, Patti Lupone, Stephen Colbert, Christina Hendricks, Martha Plimpton and others.  It was wonderful, and it reinforces again for me the difference between knowing musicals from their soundtracks and from seeing them live (or, in this case, quasi-live).*

Company was a startling work when it debuted. It seems less so now, since others have trod the path that it blazed, and some of the language and situations seem dated.  Nonetheless, it is an intellectually engaging and moving play.

Company is about a man coming to grips with his desire for and yet fear of making a deep commitment to anyone.  He views all of his friends' marriages and sees the flaws.  At the same time, he recognizes his own loneliness -- he is always "company," never with someone himself.  ("Side by Side by Side" notes that he has been seven times a godfather, but never a father.) He is an observer on the outside -- he can't even allow himself to have a single deep relationship: his three girlfriends have a number in the first act ("You Could Drive a Person Crazy") about his tendency to get a woman infatuated with him and then abandoning her.

The work has humorous and serious songs that show a deep understanding of human nature and the pitfalls of marriage.  "Sorry-Grateful" captures the mixed emotions that people feel towards those whom they love. "The Little Things You Do Together" is a humorously snarky look at some of the ways in which married couples share things and drift apart.  "Barcelona" demonstrates the danger of saying empty meaningless phrases to someone who may take them seriously.

The performances were wonderful.  Neil Patrick Harris did a lovely job projecting Robert's wistful loneliness.  I loved Stephen Colbert in the role of Harry:  his singing voice was merely adequate, but he is a surprisingly accomplished actor.  It would have been easy to play a cardboard cutout of a middle-aged boor, but he captured the character's underlying vulnerability and confusion.

Best of all was Patti Lupone.  She took a role completely identified with Elaine Stritch -- that was written for her, in fact -- and made it her own. Listening to the soundtrack, Stritch's Joanne sounds like a hard-bitten, tough broad.  On the other hand, Lupone played Joanne as a bitter alcoholic who seems like she must have once been a femme fatale, and who still retains some her former charms.  Her proposition to Robert near the end of the play resembles a less predatory version of Mrs. Robinson's  in The Graduate, until she reveals that she in fact has a different agenda in mind.

Lupone takes Joanne's signature number, "Ladies Who Lunch," and wisely does not try to mimic Stritch's delivery. Stritch's Joanne seems angry and sardonic, while Lupone's Joanne comes across as bitter and deeply wounded.  Where Stritch, in keeping with her usual style, sings clipped phrases, Lupone lengthens them, making them more melodic. Perhaps paradoxically, this does not soften the song, but underscores the difference between Joanne's confidently feminine exterior and her seeming inner self-loathing.

All in all, it was a wonderful show.  It was, as Sondheim often is, full of subtext and without an easy resolution.  As the Rocket Scientist noted when we were leaving, you don't know what happens to Robert -- does he find someone and settle down? -- or his friends. The play just... ends.  There is no happy ending -- arguably, there is no ending at all. 

Sondheim once said that his intention was to leave the audience screaming with laughter for two hours, and then have them go home and be unable to sleep.  With Company, he succeeds brilliantly.

*I really wish there were more productions like this.  With the Met showing operas in theaters, there is no reason not to have them; such productions would provide an excellent means to bring works to people who will never have an opportunity to see them live.

Saturday, June 18, 2011

Food for thought... or maybe not.

One way to know that all your teenage or twenty-something kids are home for the summer is when the household blows through four gallons of milk and a gallon of orange juice in five days. Not to mention bread, cibatta rolls, muffins, bagels,* peanut butter, pasta, jarred spaghetti sauce, sliced and shredded cheddar and grated parmesan cheese.... I guess I should feel lucky that two of the three are vegetarians, as fruit is so much less expensive than meat. (12 Gala apples and three pounds of grapes gone like that – they haven't started on the satsumas and the bananas, yet. Yesterday, I overheard the Red-Headed Menace telling his brother, “Several apples a day keeps the doctor away.”)

“Growing boys,” hell. Plague of locusts is more like it. The Red-Headed Menace even refers to himself that way. The fact that he is training for cross-country in the fall has meant an insane increase in his appetite. I am beginning to think he is working on eating his weight in pasta every day.

I am already looking forward to them being back in school. If nothing else, it should be cheaper.

*Yes, I know. They are really bread donuts, not proper bagels, since proper bagels do not exist outside of NYC. I have been thoroughly indoctrinated into the cult of the New York Bagel.

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Tony, Tony, Tony....

The 65th Annual Tony Awards was held on Sunday. As usual, it continues to be the most amusing and best-written award show that the television viewing public is subjected to.

Like the Super Bowl, almost everyone watches the Oscars, even people who do not care for movies and haven't seen any of the Best Picture nominees.  People have parties to watch the Oscars.  I myself was at an Oscar party once where the snacks seemed the most interesting part of the evening for some of the party-goers. (I am pleased to say that I won the award for picking the most winners, including such categories as set design.  Anyone can pick Best Actress; it takes a real obsessive, or somebody seriously lucky, as I was, to win Best Set Design.  My prize was a DVD of Mr. Smith Goes To Washington. I was called on to make a speech, which began with "first of all, I would like to thank all the good people at IMdB.....")

The Grammys and Emmys are not as popular as the Oscars, but people still talk about them some. The Golden Globes are rapidly becoming increasingly popular if for no other reason than to see how sober the stars are.

The Tonys, though, might seem to be of interest to only a small segment of the American population. Broadway shows are not seen by all that many people, and even regional and touring theater has much less an audience base than movie or television. Even for those of us in areas where Broadway shows tour, the shows are either on their way to Broadway or are certainly not in their first year there. So at the time that shows are awarded Tonys, they have been seen by a relatively few people compared to other media.  Not to mention how exorbitantly expensive tickets are: in the song "Great Big Stuff" from the musical Dirty Rotten Scoundrels a few years ago, a character, in addition to wanting "a mansion with a moat," exclaims "I can finally afford to see a Broadway show!"

But the American Theater Wing puts on the best awards show.  A lot of it is the musical numbers:  these are people who can really sing and dance.  At the same time.  And because they are prepared for a production other than an awards show, they have a coherence that the dance numbers at the Oscars totally lack. And the winners, from the writers and composers to the actors, give much more interesting acceptance speeches.   And the hosts, be it this year's Neil Patrick Harris or former host Hugh Jackman, are very funny, no doubt as a result an amazing writing staff.

So, herewith, are my probably uninteresting observations on a very pleasant evening watching show folks pat themselves on the back:
Oh. My. God. Neil Patrick Harris's opening number may be the most I've laughed while watching television in years.
Hey, Daniel Radcliffe can sing! Or, if recordings are to be trusted, at least as well as Robert Morse, who originated the role.  Glad to see he's making a career for himself after Harry Potter.  I think doing live theater was a smart choice -- he has the acting chops to carry it off.
The "How many Spiderman jokes can I fit into thirty seconds" was perfect.  The show is just too easy a target. It would have gotten dreary if that had been the main object of comedy through the night.  (True to his word, NPH didn't say one more Spidey joke the whole evening, although Robin Williams did.) This bit would be lost on casual viewers who do not follow pop culture news, which would have made an evening of Spiderman jokes all the drearier.

Catch Me If You Can looks good.  Even if it is a moviecal.  (Sorry, my feelings about musicals based on (nonmusical) movies is best saved for another day.) If the rest of the musical is like the number they perform, the music is pretty good, if nothing to write home about.  
 I am amused by how they got around the censorship issues for The MotherF***er with the HatThe Mother with the Hat just doesn't have the same zing, though.
I am rooting for the Book of Mormon for the same reason I wanted Trent Reznor to win that Oscar: the phrase "Tony award winners Matt Stone and Trey Parker, creators of South Park..." has such a delicious ring to it.
I take that back.  I want The Scottsboro Boys to win -- it's the last Kander & Ebb show.  (Fred Ebb died in 2004.)   Although I have to stretch to see how the topic can be made the subject of a musical, if anyone can do it, they can.  I do confess I find the number a bit jarring -- it is a really upbeat, sunshiney song.  Although I can conceptually see where that might fit into the story they are telling, knowing the entirety of the dark episode in American history they wrote about makes it unsettling, which may be its purpose.
Maybe I don't take it back.  I have got to see the Book of Mormon when it makes its way to my neck of the woods.
The dueling hosts number was great.  It was fun to see how many musical references were in there. Of course, if you don't know anything about the history of musicals, maybe it wouldn't make much sense.
The Spiderman number was most emphatically not. If that boring, trite ballad is representative of the songs in this show, no wonder the critics savaged it.
What the heck is Frances McDormand wearing? It looks like a formal gown with a denim jacket over it.  Lady, this is not the night to let your freak flag fly.  Or, maybe it is.
Whoo hoo! A number from Company! I'm going to see it in two days.  Of course, it is only the film of the performance, but it's better than nothing.  
Sutton Foster is the cutest thing imaginable.  Her acceptance speech thanking her dresser was darling.
Okaaaaayyyyy.... what was Mark Rylance's acceptance speech about again?  Performance art, I guess.  I cannot imagine an Oscar winner spending his time onstage talking about walking through walls.  Was this a metaphor?
War Horse for Best Play, The Book Of Mormon for Best Musical.   Both predicted victories by many people. Although, had it not been a revival, The Normal Heart might have gotten it.  I think it is interesting the way that shows can be revived, and made fresh again, while most remakes of movies are disasters. One advantage to the medium, I guess.

And wow, that closing rap was terrific. Kudos to some talented writers.
I can hardly wait until next year, even if I have not been to the theater.  And I want the Oscar people to take note:  fire your staff, and hire the Tony writers and NPH for next year.


Monday, June 13, 2011


This is serious.  These men clearly do not understand what they have done and how many people they have hurt.  How could they? They have appropriated the right to talk of an experience they have never and will never experience.  It is an example of white, male, straight privilege and complete cluelessness.


I can't help myself.  I keep giggling about the thought of two men flirting over the Internet, each thinking the other was a lesbian.

To boldly go? Or to go boldly?

Having had an exchange in FaceBook earlier with a friend about, of all things, professional basketball and splitting infinitives (don't worry, it made sense in context), I am having to resist the urge to either a) review my entire blog to see that there are no split infinitives, or b) edit my entire blog, splitting infinitives here and there willy-nilly, to show that I am not captive to the forces of conservative grammar.

I think maybe I should just put the computer down for a while until those urges go away.


I am a progressive.  Right now, I am wincing.

The entire Anthony Weiner debacle just keeps spiraling out of control.  I feel a bit sorry for Jon Stewart, who has stated that Weiner is a friend, and discussed the difficulty of taking what would be the obvious juvenile route to mockery here, a route which I have no doubt he would have not hesitated to go down had it been someone else.  He has made fun of Weiner, but my hunch is the tone would have been a little different had it been a conservative Republican.*  (Not that it hasn't included its own juvenalia: the yelling penis on the "Cock-blocked Stories of The Week" was pretty humorous.)  (My favorite comment by Stewart, following Weiner's statement that he could not confirm that the picture was not of him, was along the lines "I may not know a lot of things, but I do know what my erect penis looks like.")

And I feel sorry for Weiner.  That the hell you're experiencing is of your own making does not make it less of a hell.  I feel very sorry for the young woman at the center of this firestorm. I feel especially sorry for Weiner's wife, who never asked for this and who, in addition to coming to grips with the fact that her husband has a serious problem, has to do so in the glare of the public spotlight.

But what I fear is that all the good Weiner has done in his time in Congress has gone completely down the drain.  The man in the forefront of health care reform, who showed intelligence, wit, a fighting spirit and, most of all, a willingness to take on the Republicans, has self-destructed.  And may be taking  a lot of progressives with him, politically speaking.

One of my favorite quotes is listed on the sidebar here: "An idea is not responsible for the people who believe it."  Don Marquis was a pretty insightful guy. After all, the fact that Karl Marx was all for mandatory public education for children does not make it a bad idea. That Richard Nixon signed the acts creating both the EPA and OSHA, not to mention the Clean Water Act and Title IX does not make those pieces of legislation suspect.

Clearly, we as a country feel far differently.  To listen to the emphasis on "character" and the focus on scandal** rather than actual substance in, for example, election campaigns says to me that as a society we have no desire to follow Marquis's advice. That applies not only to Weiner, but to Bill Clinton, and Newt Gingrich, and many other men (and a few women) in the public eye who have acted in a less than upright manner.  (As far as I am concerned, the reason to dislike and fear Gingrich is not how he may have treated his first wife, as despicable as that is purported to be, but that his proposed policies would be disastrous.)

I predict there will be political fallout from this affair for Democrats and progressives (recognizing that the two groups are not necessarily the same) for a long time to come.  Thank God it was not closer to the elections.

*In spite of Stewart's protestations,  he does serve as a journalist of sorts.  This demonstrates something that is problematic for all journalists, that of being friends with the people they may be covering.  He has at least been upfront about the issue, which one suspects most members of the news corps -- pundits and reporters alike -- would not be.  On the other hand, it had already reported, so it may have been damage control.  It's not like I'm cynical.  Not at all.  After all, Stewart is today's Walter Cronkite -- if you can't trust him to make fun of everyone who deserves it, whom can you trust?

**Of course I am all for prosecuting politicians who have broken the law, regardless of their ideologies.  To the extent that Weiner has done that, if he has, then he should be prosecuted the same as anyone else.  I felt that way about Mark Foley, too.

Sunday, June 12, 2011


Another sign you may be a lawyer: when you are tempted to post the entire lyric to a song which seems to apply to your life, and you feel that it would exceed fair use.  And you actually care.*  So you don't.

*Although it should be pointed out that you cared a lot less before you knew any IP attorneys.
Note to self:

If you are looking for something upbeat to improve a pretty crappy day, the Next to Normal soundtrack ain't it.

Saturday, June 11, 2011

The entire Anthony Weiner affair saddens me.  The man clearly has a problem.  And in so many ways, he has been such a stalwart defender of us little guys that to see that those feet of clay are so very fragile is almost painful.

There is always the question of whether his apologies are sincere, whether he truly regrets his actions or if he simply regrets being caught.  That is the case with any politician, any celebrity -- any person, really -- in such a situation.

It has gotten me examining my responses to conservatives who have been the subject of such scandals.  My general feeling is one of complete schadenfreude.  Of course, in many cases, these have been people trumpeting the need for "traditional values," so their fall from grace involves not merely immorality but hypocrisy into the bargain. It is especially galling when those calls for traditional values are also calls for taking rights away -- such as abortion -- or refusing to grant them in the first place -- same-sex marriage.


Perhaps they are as deserving of my pity as Anthony Weiner.  It can't be easy to have to come to grips with the worst aspects of your psyche.  Not to mention their families, caught up in the glare of scandal.  And it does make one wonder:  is there something about being an elected official which encourages one to at out?  Not that all of them do, of course, but I would argue that the percentage of political figures caught up in scandal exceed that of the general public.

Is it because they have power? Or people telling them how wonderful they are?  Certainly they are discovered more readily because -- especially in the case of such a visible progressive as Anthony Weiner -- they have a metaphorical bull's-eye on their back.  (And one worries in the case of liberal politicians that one of these days, some of those bull's-eyes may become more than symbolic.  The Gabby Giffords shooting was very scary.)

Maybe it is incumbent upon me, when the next conservative gets caught with his pants down -- metaphorically or literally -- to pause in my sardonic chuckling to give a thought to the real human pain that is occurring.

Food for thought, anyway.

In the remote case that anyone is interested: more on my Sondheim obsession

What's on my "Sondheim CD" playlist:

The Advantages of Floating In the Middle of the Sea, Pacific Overtures
The Ballad of Booth,  Assassins
Buddy's Blues, Follies
Chromolume #7/Putting It Together, Sunday in the Park with George
Comedy Tonight, A Funny Thing Happened On The Way To The Forum
Could I Leave You?, Follies
Everything's Coming Up Roses, Gypsy
Gee, Officer Krupke, West Side Story
I'm Still Here,  Follies
The Ladies Who Lunch,  Company
A Little Priest, Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber Of Fleet Street
The Little Things You Do Together, Company
Maria, West Side Story
Move On, Sunday in the Park with George
Send in the Clowns, A Little Night Music
A Weekend in the Country, A Little Night Music

And that does not include music from Into the Woods.  Both original and revival casts are included here. Performers include Ethel Merman, Mandy Patinkin, Bernadette Peters, Angela Lansbury,  Zero Mostel, Elaine Stritch,  B.D. Wong and Neil Patrick Harris.

The great things is one could make Sondheim CDs with music to cover all sort of emotional situations; I know, I've done it.  Well, most unhappy situations: as I said, his work does not lend itself to "fun."

When I have been struggling with life decisions and regrets, I play "Move On."  When I struggle with relationships, I sing along to "Send in the Clowns." (Or, depending upon my level of fury,  "The Little Things You Do Together" and "Could I Leave You?") When I am trying to get up the courage to follow my heart, I listen to "Putting It Together" (probably not the best choice).  When I am feeling bleak and cynical, I listen to "Ladies Who Lunch" and "A Little Priest."  When I am in an amused mode, "Gee, Officer Krupke" and "Buddy's Blues." And from Into the Woods, "Agony (Reprise)."  When I am having one of those "kitten on a limb" days (remember that poster?), there is "I'm Still Here." And "Everything's Coming Up Roses."

My current Sondheim wish list is the entire Assassins soundtrack, as well as those from the ones I don't have yet:  Do You Hear A Waltz (music by Richard Rogers), Merrily We Roll Along, Anyone Can Whistle, Passion, and Bounce.  [EDITED TO ADD:  and the revival of Gypsy from either 2003 (with Bernadette Peters) or 2008 (with Patti Lupone), and, for completeness' sake, the 1997 production of Saturday Night.] As well as Look, I Made a Hat: Collected Lyrics (1981-2011) with Attendant Comments, Amplifications, Dogmas, Harangues, Wafflings, Diversions and Anecdotes.   Unfortunately, that last item does not come out until November 2011. (Note to people who buy me Christmas presents: This. Is. What. I. Want.)

I can hardly wait.

Friday, June 10, 2011

(Non)Judgment Day?

I am currently taking a class which includes work on learning "mindfulness."

Mindfulness is a useful concept: according to one of its most well-known proponents, John Kabat-Zinn, “Mindfulness means paying attention in a particular way; on purpose, in the present moment, and nonjudgmentally.”

That "nonjudgmentally" can be the most important and difficult area:  learning to say, for example, "when Anthony Weiner sent that picture of his crotch to that woman, he acted with a seeming disregard for the consequences and with a lack of judgment and awareness of how his action would be perceived" rather than "what a freaking idiot." Being nonjudgmental makes one far more prolix and long-winded, it would seem.

All well and good.  I am working on this -- especially in traffic.  I am trying to learn to say "that was not a safe maneuver," rather than "you bastard -- cut me off, will you?" If nothing else, it may reduce the chances of ending up on the wrong end of a road rage incident.

But there are also cases which are far more problematic: if saying "that is immoral" is a judgment, what about rape? Or murder? Or child abuse?  Can we somehow refrain from saying "that is an evil act"? More to the point, should we?

To be completely nonjudgmental is to imply that there are no evil acts in the world.  "That was incredibly hurtful to the victim" simply fails to capture the horror and revulsion which most people feel rightfully towards such acts. (And yes, that "rightfully" was judgmental.)  We need to have words, judgmental or not, which capture our pain and rage as individuals and as a society.

The difficulty, as I see it, is expanding that concept of evil acts to encompass individuals.  To say "they are evil" rather than "they did an evil act" is to eliminate all hope of redemption.  I have a great many problems with that.  People do evil acts for all sorts of reasons: drunkenness, bad judgment, rage, anger, not learning any better.  One of my favorite characters on television once said "I think we are all capable of atrocities under the right circumstances." And there are ways in which society - especially in the case of rape -- aids and abets those actions.

There are people who seem beyond redemption: the Adolf Hitlers, and on a far lesser scale, the Fred Phelpses of the world seem to be too far gone in the love of their own horrible actions to ever let go of them, let alone try for atonement.  And yes, there are sociopaths and psychopaths, who view the rest of the world as their own private hunting ground. (I myself viewed Osama Bin Laden as one of those irredeemable individuals.)

But today there is far too much labeling of people as evil. The level of harsh judgment which occurs in public and political discourse is breathtaking. (No, that breathtaking is not a judgment.)  It closes discourse: who would agree to debate anyone whom you define as perverted or traitorous? Over anything?

Moreover, some criminals are not seen as the perpetrators of evil acts, but as human monsters.  Defining someone as "monstrous" means that, once they are convicted or even in some cases suspected of a crime, nothing that happens matters to them --  not torture by authorities to gain information, not rape in prison, not death -- whether at the hands of fellow inmates or in the execution chamber.

Defining someone as "monstrous" might make it all that much harder to believe -- and more painful for victims to accept -- evidence which shows that they were, in fact, innocent.  If miscarriages of justice are seen, in their own way, as being "evil," then such judging may lead to its own evil.

I am not sure exactly where I am going with this, other than to observe that refusing to pass judgment is far more difficult that it can seem at first blush.  And that the more I think about it, the more the tendency of our society to refrain from doing that, the more I am troubled by it.

Maybe I'm learning this "nonjudgmentally" business after all.


Having gotten all my music back, the next task is recreating playlists. First and foremost was the "Broadway" playlist. Followed by not one but three Sondheim lists: "Sondheim," and from that "Sondheim Favorites," and from that a "Sondheim CD."

The hardest part was choosing only enough that fit on a CD.

Yes, I know that they lose something by being removed from their context in the whole of the work – even if the only place I have heard that work is on soundtrack. Musicals, especially Sondheim's, have a musical and dramatic arc which can be heard even in the songs without staging. I know that in some sense I am doing violence to the depth of the music by taking it from its natural environment.

But I can't help it. I am not the ony one who has found his music interesting: according to Wikipedia, some 900 versions of “Send In The Clowns” have been recorded and it has become a "jazz standard." Add to that the versions of “Children Will Listen,” and “Move On,” and you have a clear love of his music. Although that is in some sense surprising, since as classic as his musicals are, all of them have been by conventional wisdom flops on Broadway.

Which means that people don't get his music taken as a whole. The fact of the matter is that with some exceptions, all of his songs are either so closely tied to the play in which they reside that they make little sense outside that context, or alternatively are simply impossible to sing. My all-time favorite Sondheim number, “The Advantages of Floating in the Sea,” from Pacific Overtures, is both of those. (I love it because it may be the best example of world-building with a song that I've heard, although the "Ballad of Sweeney Todd" comes close.)

I am sad that I have not had a chance to see his work live, merely through CDs and in some cases DVDs (Sweeney Todd, Into the Woods). (I understand that there is a DVD version of Passion, and I have yet to see the movie version of A Little Night Music.) I have seen a junior high school production of  Into the Woods, Jr. a version developed for children to perform, which drops the second act entirely. Which makes sense, since I don't think twelve-year-olds could pull off an act which deals with topics such as infidelity and death. A little dark, don't you think?

I am looking forward a couple of weeks to seeing the film of the performance of Company starring Neil Patrick Harris, Patti Lupone and Stephen Colbert (?). It's only a film, but it will be a great fun. Well, not fun exactly: aside From a Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum, none of Sondheim's work can described as “fun.” Not that he does not occasionally have fun lyrics: “Gee Officer Krupke,” from West Side Story, and “A Little Priest” from Sweeney Todd. My very favorite pun of all times comes in “Agony (Reprise)” in the second act of Into the Woods: When the princes sing “As they sleep there for years/ and we cry on their biers.” Even Company contains wonderfully amusing but terribly cynical “The Little Things You Do Together.”

I wish I could tell Sondheim just how much his music and lyrics have enriched my life. I do not normally mourn the passing of public figures, but I will weep when he dies.

Where you are.

The weather has improved. It is a sunny and clear day here in Northern California. And I am pondering how this place has become, in some sense, home.

Not completely. Home is the Gulf Coast of Florida. Yet, if I look at things objectively, that is simply nostalgia. I would not be happy if I moved back. The weather is too hot, the politics too conservative. My brother who lives there gets frustrated with the political climate that he finds himself in.

I have lived in the Bay Area for 23 years, longer than I have lived anywhere else. (It would have been 24, but we spent a year in Northern Virginia.) I have friends here, ties of memory – joy and pain. My children were born here, and are Californians through and through. I will probably die here.

So, if people's voices don't have quite the slow softness I was accustomed to in the South, they still have interesting things to say. So the beaches are not sugar-white sand.  They still have waves cresting upon them.  It is a matter of finding and enjoying where you are. Whatever led me to this area – fate, destiny, Stanford – I could have ended up somewhere much, much worse.

So, here's to you, Bay Area. Thanks for the wonderful weather and the progressive politics. Thanks for really wonderful Asian and Mexican food (and I know good barbecue and Caribbean joints).  Thank you for the wild Pacific Ocean that lies a mere hour away, its glorious waves crashing along picture postcard shores.

You're not Florida, but that is probably a good thing.

Tuesday, June 07, 2011

Follow up...

The last line of my "Lessons Learned from Law School" bit in the Stanford Lawyer is "I have learned that learning law irretrievably warps how you view the world."

I need to write another piece: "How To Tell You're Still a Lawyer Even Though You Haven't Practiced in Many, Many Years (Aside From the Nicely Framed Piece of Vellum Hanging on Your Wall)."

Also known as: "You may be a lawyer if..."

If the first words you say after tripping over a badly laid floor is "That's a tort waiting to happen."

If your son asks at dinner what the criminal culpability of the characters in Romeo and Juliet would be, and you find yourself wracking your brain to remember your first year criminal law so you can give him an accurate answer.*

If you watch cop shows to count the Fourth Amendment violations, and on the rare occasions when the characters do agonize about not having a warrant (which only seems to happen when someone is in danger) you find yourself screaming "Exigent circumstances, you morons!"

If one of the reasons you most like the Prop. 8 suit is that  you can discuss standing without your friends' eyes glazing over.

If SCOTUSblog is the one non-social networking site you read most frequently, even if you tend to skip over the corporate and intellectual property law cases as being uninteresting.**

If you see your sons' old abandoned Winnie the Pooh books, and you idly wonder how many years are left on the copyright protections.

If you worry about whether the Wilfrid Owen poem that gets more hits than anything else in the five year history of your blog is in the public domain. (It is.  I checked.)

If one of the most enjoyable things about talking with a lawyer is that you can discuss your interest in capital punishment and not have to define any terms.

If you actually care what Circuit federal appellate decisions come out of. (My own particular Circuits of interests are the Fifth, Ninth and Eleventh, mostly because either I or people I care about live in them.)

If you are grateful to the Westboro Baptist Church for anything.

If you find yourself writing about a legal decision "Aside from the outcome, I really liked this opinion."

If the incident report you file on a work-related accident includes any one sentence with more than three four-syllable words in it. Make that two.

And lastly, if you live in fear that some of the people you most disliked and least respected in law school will end up on the bench somewhere someday.

See? As I said, law school changes you forever.

*The one thing we agreed on was that the apothecary was probably guilty of assisted suicide.  The Red-Headed Menace suggested that it was Romeo's fault, but I pointed out that since he was dead he couldn't be tried.  We then discussed whether Friar Lawrence should have known what would happen and was guilty of involuntary manslaughter, but then also discussed whether he was guilty of contributing to the delinquency of a minor. I was greatly disappointed to find out that it was a school assignment, and that he was simply trying to pump me for information.

**Although if anyone can discuss the Costco case with me, I would appreciate it. Primarily because I shop a lot at Costco.

Monday, June 06, 2011

Because I like to keep you guys apprised of these things...

A small thing, but mine own.

Letters I should send...

Dear Diamond Match Company:

Those "strike anywhere" matches?  Aren't.


Dear Ben and Jerry's:

I have loved your flavor names before, but "Clusterfluff" just takes the proverbial cake.  Too bad it's peanut butter -- I never have liked peanut butter ice cream.

PS.  I had my first Phish Food today -- it is now my favorite flavor, eclipsing even Neapolitan Dynamite and New York Super Fudge Chunk.


Dear John Edwards:

I not only voted for you, I persuaded others to do likewise.  I cannot express how angry, disappointed and yes, cheated I feel.


And speaking of politicians I admired...

Dear Anthony Weiner:

What the hell were you thinking?  Did you honestly believe you wouldn't be found out? Aside from the impropriety of that tweet to begin with, lying about it was just plain stupid.

You should have known everyone on the far right was going to be scrutinizing your every move after you made such a splash during the health care debate. 

Progressives have enough problems without our stalwarts pulling silly stunts like this.


Dear boss-for-whom-I-would-walk-over-hot-coals:

Thank you for having faith in me.  More than I have in myself, usually.


Dear well-meaning idiot:

Do not EVER tell anyone that losing a loved one is "God's will."  Chances they are mad enough at God already.*


And, finally...

Dear Mr. Sondheim:

You are a national treasure and have made my life immeasurably richer by your words and music.  God bless you and keep you, sir.

Even if I do have to hear "Send in the Clowns" in my head for hours on end.  At least it's not the Judy Collins version.

*I have not lost anyone, but someone I talked with today, had, and gotten this response from one of their friends.

Saturday, June 04, 2011

Went that well, did it?

Me:  What are your plans for the rest of the day?
Red-Headed Menace:  Rant about how much the SAT Subject tests suck?

I am NOT that kind. Really.

Yesterday, the Rocket Scientist and I were  discussing the evening we had gone to dinner with the Resident Shrink and her friend from the East Coast.  The evening when I had the "Corpse Reviver" at the British Banker's Club, and... yeah.

"You were really flirting with Max," The Rocket Scientist said, amusedly.

"Me? I never flirt.  And people never flirt with me."

"Of course you were flirting.  And he was flirting right back.  It was really cute."*


I am not flirtatious. I am not "cute."  Not even remotely.

I am dark.  And mysterious.  And pissed-off.

So there.

*He later observed that, given how much I had had to drink, I may not be the best judge of my own behavior.  I remember everything that happened, and I am pretty sure I was NOT flirting.

It occurs to me...

I am thoroughly spoiled.  Like all Northern Californians, I feel it appropriate to whine about what may be, year-round, the most temperate and gentle climate in the country.  Except for a few weeks in late summer/early autumn, when the heat can be brutal, it really is quite pleasant here.

There is a reason we can build totally impractical houses with outer walls that are mostly glass.  Those things (and I have one, I should know) are a bear to heat and even worse to attempt to cool.  They are an environmental nightmare, leaking climate control from almost every pore. (This is contrast to the  thick walls of the adobe that Indians and Spanish used in building, which is in fact pretty energy efficient.) Because, as everyone will tell you, this is the Bay Area!! You don't need air conditioning.  Of course, this is usually said ironically on a September day when it is 103 degrees in downtown San Jose.

Now that real estate values have dropped somewhat, and the Giants have won a World Series, the weather is the last thing we have to bitch about.  That and the state of the tech industry.

And the massive unemployment, of course, but everywhere in the country is feeling that particular pinch.

Just another rainy Saturday morning in June.... Wait, WHAT?

I am sitting in yet another ubiquitous Starbucks, waiting for the Red Headed Menace to finish his SAT Subject test.  (His teacher suggested, rather sensibly, that the time to take the subject test was right after he had taken the subject in school, hence he is taking one of his SATs as a freshman.  It makes RHM feel important, I think.)

I am looking out the window on another chilly, gray, rainy morning...

Excuse me?  It is JUNE,  for crying out loud.  In the San Francisco Bay Area.  This is not supposed to happen.  The rain should have stopped at least a month ago.  What happened to our God-given right to warmth?

Years ago, on the first day of Civil Procedure, the professor joked that "this is California -- if it rains before November, they have to give you your money back."  He never said anything about when it needed to stop raining, but really.

It's not even like it is proper rain.*  Or a thunderstorm, which I would welcome. Sheesh.

I want my money back.

*Years ago, when the family was visiting relatives in North Carolina, it rained one morning.  The Not So Little Drummer Boy stood outside with water streaming down his face.  When we made cracks about him not having the intelligence to come in out of the rain, he replied "But this is different... this is warm rain."  Only then did it occur to me that yes, he had never experienced a warm rain -- when it was a decent temperature at home, it was always sunny.

Friday, June 03, 2011

What do Les Miserables, Godspell, Grease,  Miss Saigon, Tommy and even Chess have in common, other than being musicals?  They -- along with others -- provide the music  for Star Wars: The Musical.

Words cannot describe how much I love this.