Wednesday, July 31, 2013

And Now for Something Completely Funny

For one brief, hilarious moment, there was a play called 'Spamalot.' News-Progress photos by Keith Stewart
Once in every show
There comes a song like this
It starts off soft and low
And ends up with a kiss
Oh where is the song
That goes like this?
Where is it? Where? Where?

A sentimental song
That casts a magic spell
They all will hum along —
We’ll overact like hell —
For this is the song that goes like this
Yes it is! Yes it is!
— “The Song That Goes Like This” from “Spamalot”

By Dan Hagen
It’s the rare musical comedy that can take you from farce to a treatise on political organization with the speed of a galloping coconut. And this is the show that goes like that.
We can thank “Spamalot” — and “Monty Python and the Holy Grail,” the movie that inspired it — for opening our eyes to the fact that getting handed a fancy-ass sword from some soggy woman may not be a sound basis for a responsible system of government.
“Oh, but you can’t expect to wield supreme executive power just because some watery tart threw a sword at you,” explains the constitutionally progressive peasant Dennis Galahad (Sean Zimmerman) to King Arthur (Robert Anthony Jones). “Oh, but if I went ‘round sayin' I was emperor just because some moistened bint lobbed a scimitar at me, they’d put me away.”
Shook high in background; Jones in foreground
As directed and choreographed by Christie Kerr as the closing show of the Little Theatre’s 2013summer season, this inspired lunacy recoils upon itself in that peculiarly Python fashion.
Thus, when knights mime riding horses to the clip-clop of coconuts, the quest gets interrupted while bystanders muse just how a Cocos nucifera fruit from a tropical palm tree managed to turn up in Dark Ages England. Did an overburdened swallow drop it off?
This sort of stuff is as smart as it is silly. It’s a rare show that can make comic fodder out of migratory patterns and lift-to-drag ratios, you know.
And this show is all lift, no drag (well, a little zaftig drag by funnyman John McAvaney). The proceedings swirl in the kind of meta-show humor that could easily go bad in the wrong hands, but is delicious here.
The performers constantly cut away the supports for our suspension of disbelief and let it do a pratfall, reminding us that they’re actors in a show and we’re an audience in on the joke. That stuff reaches a crescendo in “The Song That Goes Like This,” a generic-aisle parody of every soaring, pompous declaration of love you’ve heard in a musical. Funny how potent cheap music can be.
Potent, too, is the colorful set by Jennifer Price-Fick and the especially colorful costumes by Timmy Valentine. Actors shed their armor to don disco garb and white tie and tails and who knows what all. We get tap dancing and scat singing. The pace is frenetic and the fun is eclectic.
 “Spamalot” ultimately succeeds because it’s in the hands of assured professional performers who are in command of comic material they know to be first-rate. The air of confidence that generates is irresistible. Those performers include:
Jared Titus as Sir Robin
Jared Titus as the cowardly Brave Sir Robin. He knows that we know that he knows what he’s doing up on that stage.
Zimmerman as Galahad, tossing his head fetchingly in that long, blond wig. Shows you the mileage a talented actor can get out of a single prop. And his deadpan dismembered Black Knight is priceless.
Karla Shook as the moistened bint herself, the Lady of the Lake. As one might expect, a supernatural siren who can crown kings and breathe underwater is a bit of a diva, and Shook lets us have that full force in “The Diva’s Lament.”
Her swift, knowing looks are priceless. “That’s awfully high for me,” Zimmerman sings uncertainly in their duet. “But as everyone can see, we should have stayed in D,” Shook replies, scowling pointedly into the orchestra pit.
Marc Pera as Patsy, the Baldric of the piece (remember Blackadder?). Pera underplays masterfully, particularly when Jones moans the song “I’m All Alone” while his unappreciated sidekick is clearly right there beside him. Pera flavors the number with just the right air of resigned exasperation.
Jones as Arthur. He was a comic tornado as Pseudolous in “Forum,” but here it’s his bombastic chin-up nobility that carries the day. He’s like Richard Burton doing Shakespeare on a nonexistent horse. Jones knows the secret — that the more seriously you can appear to take the silliest of proceedings, the funnier they are for everybody
Matthew Alan Schmidt as Lancelot, a medieval brute with a soft center best revealed under disco lights. Good as he is in that role, Schmidt really rakes in the laughs in the other parts he plays, including a surly French gatekeeper and a gigantic Knight Who Says Ni. As with Jones, it’s Schmidt’s flat, absolutely convinced delivery that does the trick.
• Perhaps best of all, although it’s a tricky call, is Trey Compton. He portrays the plummy BBC-ish Historian who sets up the show as well as Herbert, a winsome prince who longs for a handsome knight to rescue him from home. Compton tackles this role in so determinedly gentle and sunny a fashion that he pulls every eye toward him.
Repeat viewings of this production would slide down easily. The show’s delightful and just about as durable as the 700-year-old legends that inspired it.
Incidental Intelligence: Python Eric Idle wrote the show's book and lyrics and collaborated with John Du Prez on the music, although “Knights of the Round Table” and “Brave Sir Robin” were composed by Neil Innes for the 1975 film. “Always Look on the Bright Side of Life” was written by Idle for the film “Monty Python's Life of Brian.”
The cast includes Kelsey Andres, Rachel Perin, Melissa Jones, Amanda Johns, Mandy Modic, Colin Shea Denniston, Andy Frank, Matthew Glover AND Peter Marinaro.
The show has lighting design by Matthew Frick, stage management by Jeremy J. Phillips, fight coordination by Compton and musical direction by Kevin Long. Andres is dance captain.
Performances will run through Aug. 11. Tickets may be purchased by calling The Little Theatre on the Square Box Office at (217)-728-7375 or online at www
When a wrong turn takes the show in Finland, we get the Fisch Schlapping Song, with Pera in the middle

Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Fox News Wins the Racism Race

The Fox News business plan: Massage their prejudices while you rob them blind
And CNN continues in its crusade to be "Fox Lite"
And here, Fox News fans go rabid at the idea that racism would ever even be mentioned in school.

What's Wrong With Fox News, Vol. 3, Part 6,823

By Dan Hagen
Fox News’ Religion Correspondent Lauren Green actually embarrassed the news channel — if such a thing is conceivable — with her ignorant, bigoted interview of a Muslim scholar, authorand expert on Christianity.
Fox News' “religion correspondent.” Now there's a damn joke. Fox News' female correspondents’ qualifications all have to do with the length of their skirts.
Again and again, Green expressed her astonishment that the internationally noted professor of religion and author Reza Aslan could possibly have written a historical analysis of the life of Jesus, what with being a Muslim and all.
And Gary Denton remarked, “I’m surprised she didn't start the interview with, ‘So, you hate JEEEEEEEE-sus, don'cha?’”
Fox News: Putting the “big” in “Bigot.”

A Tribute from My Friend Jim Hampton

In all modesty, I ... oh, the hell with it. I LOVE THIS!!!

The Eagle, the Wizard and the UFOs

Anne Morrow Lindbergh’s fascination with psychology was counterbalanced by her husband’s antipathy to introspection.
So, when they vacationed in the Swiss Alps in the summer of 1959, she was eager to meet their lakeside neighbor, 75-year-old Carl Jung, the psychologist famed for his theories about humanity’s collective unconscious.
Charles Lindbergh was surprised to learn that Jung did not regard the many reports of “flying saucers” as psychological manifestations, but as factual. Jung waved away Lindbergh’s recitation of findings from U.S. Air Force investigations.
Noting that he had discussed the topic with Air Force Chief of Staff Carl Spaatz, Lindbergh said Spaatz told him, “Slim, don’t you suppose that if there was anything true about this flying saucer business, you and I would have heard about it by this time?”
Unimpressed, Jung replied, “There are a great many things going on around this earth that you and Gen. Spaatz don’t know about.”
Anne thought Jung resembled one of his own archetypes, calling him “the old wizard.” Charles sensed “…elements of mysticism and greatness about him — even though they may have been mixed, at times, with elements of charlatanism.”
Lindbergh asked Jung why he chose to live by down by the lake instead of high up in the mountains. Jung explained that having the lake next to his house suggested the different levels of human consciousness and the subconscious.
The Lindberghs’ friend Helen Wolff found the question was as telling as the answer. “The eagle and the fish,” she thought.
Source: ‘Lindbergh’ by A. Scott Berg

Monday, July 29, 2013

Balancing Act

A well-developed sense of humor is the pole that adds balance to your steps as you walk the tightrope of life.
— William Arthur Ward

Happiness is not a matter of intensity but of balance, order, rhythm and harmony.
— Thomas Merton

Almost every wise saying has an opposite one, no less wise, to balance it.
— George Santayana 

Sunday, July 28, 2013

The Age of Namor

Looking at some of Bill Everett’s earliest Marvel tales about the Sub-Mariner, from 1939-40, I am reminded what a perverse protagonist this character was — murdering people in fits of pique, helping others in manic spasms, wrecking Manhattan infrastructure like Kong.
Everett managed the difficult feat of an original take on the much-imitated Superman template – an anti-hero Superman, an amoral, arrogant Superman.
A Hollywood film about Namor as written could easily be a blockbuster. That’s both a compliment to Everett’s genius and a sad comment on the moral tone of our society, one that demands a Superman who breaks people’s necks.

A High Price to Pay

The opportunity cost of the corporate news media is ignorance of what's vitally important.

Saturday, July 27, 2013

The Secret War of the Lone Eagle

P-38 painting by Jack Connelly
The fact that his political enemy FDR had flatly forbidden his participation in Allied military operations did not prove to be an insurmountable obstacle for Charles Lindbergh.
Wearing a naval uniform without insignia to preserve his anonymity, Lindbergh was able to wrangle assignments in the Pacific theater as a technical adviser on aviation. Once there, he quietly maneuvered himself into a number of dangerous solo combat missions, his pioneering experience in the air permitting him to outfly men half his age.
However, Lindbergh’s greatest contribution to the war effort was as a technical adviser. The crew chief of “Satan’s Angels,” the 475th Fighter Group of the Fifth Air Force, noticed that Lindbergh’s P-38 was returning from missions with a good deal more fuel than the other planes.
In a thatch-roofed rec hut on Humboldt Bay in New Guinea, Lindbergh explained to skeptical combat pilots that by raising manifold pressure and lowering RPMs, they could burn less fuel in their engines.
Over the next weeks, the technique enabled Satan’s Angels to stretch their 6-to-8-hour missions to 10 hours, surprising the Japanese by striking deeper into their territory.
When Gen. Douglas MacArthur summoned him to Australia, Lindbergh explained that only instruction and training were required to greatly improve fighters’ fuel economy. MacArthur told him that would be a gift from heaven, asked Lindbergh to train his squadrons and ordered that Lindbergh could do any kind of flying in any plane he liked.
But Lindbergh didn’t like some of the sights he saw — Japanese skulls crushed to fragments so that GIs could steal their gold teeth, and Japanese bodies dumped into a ditch under a truckload of Allied garbage.
“To kill, I understand; that is an essential part of war,” Lindbergh wrote. “But for our people to kill by torture and to descend to throwing the bodies of our enemies into a bomb crater and dumping garbage on top of them nauseates me.”
Lindbergh also had troubling thoughts about the air war his accomplishments had helped make possible.
After dropping a 500-pound bomb on a reported anti-aircraft gun emplacement in Kavieng, chief port of the island of New Ireland, Papua New Guinea, Lindbergh told his journal, “I don’t like this bombing and machine-gunning of unknown targets. You press a button and death flies down. One second the bomb is hanging harmless in your racks, completely under your control. The next it is hurtling down through the air, and nothing in your power can revoke what you have done. The cards are dealt. If there is life where that bomb will hit, you have taken it.”
Source: ‘Lindbergh’ by A. Scott Berg

The Lone Eagle Dodges Death

P-47 Thunderbolt painting by Keith Woodock
Charles Lindbergh dodged death a dozen times.
Working with the bomber manufacturer Ford during World War II, Lindbergh became interested in the problems plaguing high-altitude aviation. While he was testing a P-47 Thunderbolt — an Air Force fighter that could reach 40,000 feet and 430 mph — Lindbergh’s oxygen ran out with no warning at 36,000 feet.
The gages appeared fine, but Lindbergh had trained extensively with oxygen deprivation, and sensed a characteristic shift in pulse and vision, “that vagueness of mind and emptiness of breath which warn a pilot of serious lack of oxygen.”
Blacking out, he shoved the stick forward into a power dive. Aware only dimly of the shrieking wind outside his cockpit, Lindbergh came to in the increasing air density and found that his plane had dropped 20,000 feet.
After he landed, a mechanic discovered that the pressure gage was 50 pounds too high. “That had caused all my trouble — a quarter-inch error of a needle,” Lindbergh wrote.
Source: ‘Lindbergh’ by A. Scott Berg

Friday, July 26, 2013

Under the Protection of Thor

Painting by Sinclair Stratton
After their baby was kidnapped and then accidentally and secretly killed the same night in 1932, Charles and Anne Morrow Lindbergh acquired a powerful, fiercely protective German shepherd.
Lindbergh named him Thor, evoking “thunder, strength and the protection of mankind.” Within a week, Anne wrote, “The devotion of this dog following me everywhere is quite thrilling, like having a new beau.” Thor awakened Anne every morning with his nose on the bed.
Lindbergh trained Thor to open and close doors on command and take the family terriers for a walk on a leash. Thor would reportedly watch his mistress swim in the sea. When he judged she had swum out far enough, he would jump into the water and paddle out to her, pulling her back to shore by his tail.
They knew their later-born children were safe once they gave Thor the whispered command, “Mind the baby.”
Overcome by old age during World War II, Thor struggled to rise and follow whenever Anne passed. Lindbergh noticed that his eyes followed her every moment she remained in sight.
Thor died quietly under a hickory tree on the Lindberghs’ lawn and was buried in a grave Lindbergh dug.
“He had no pain, and I think he died as the old should die, not lingering so long that all joy is gone from the living,” Lindbergh wrote in his journal that night. “I think Thor found something worthwhile in life to the very day he died, and yet I think he was ready and willing to go. But now, for us, there is a great empty, lonely feeling in the places he used to be.”
Lindbergh’s biographer Scott Berg noted that the passage about Thor was more emotional than anything Lindbergh ever wrote about a person.
Source: ‘Lindbergh’ by A. Scott Berg

You Show Me Yours, and I'll Show You Nothing!

The U.S. security-industrial complex insists it must have the power to spy on everything done by everyone, effectively eliminating privacy from the world, and yet is shocked that somebody wants to reveal its own secrets. There’s a cosmic jest in there somewhere.

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

The Monsters Are Here on Maple Street

Even truer in the 21st century than in the 20th. See Arlen Schumer's Twilight Zone essay here. Art copyright Arlen Schumer

Who among us doesn't identify, in the 21st century, with Claude Akins' futile, enraged struggle to prevent his community from descending into fear-driven, violent, self-destructive madness?

Capitalism Without Ownership

By Dan Hagen
It occurs to me that the tacit goal of 21st century corporate America is to eliminate ownership from capitalism.
They would much prefer to rent back to you what you once owned, at rates just as stiff as the traffic will bear — your books, music and movies; your home; your vehicle; your public water supply; your public schools; your health in the form of never-ending brand-name prescriptions.
The banks would even like to rent you your own already-earned wages, slicing off a piece of vigorish for the privilege of actually letting you have them.
But don’t worry, you’ll still own all the guns you can afford. Having 300 million guns rattling around the country is useful to the corporations. People who are constantly scanning the horizon for gunmen tend not to notice when you’re picking their pockets.
Capitalism is all about ownership, you see, so the corporate logic of profit-is-all dictates that corporations must finally become the sole owners of everything. To that end, they’ve already bought the U.S. government, and fairly cheaply.

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

This Happy Brand

When I taught remedial English in the East End, I had my students compose their own best- and worst-case scenarios for ten years later. The nightmares were fabulous: lush with fantastic fears, hilarious with misadventure. The pipedreams were all the same: a string of products and brand names. They read like mail-order catalogs. My students’ visions of the Good Life were so vapid and depressing that you could have got the two assignments confused.
­— Lionel Shriver in her novel “The New Republic”

Monday, July 22, 2013

Because a Gullible Rube Is a Terrible Thing to Waste

“(T)he conservative movement is, among other things, an elaborate moneymaking venture by which the wealth of the rabid and gullible conservative rank and file is redistributed to already rich celebrities.”
— Alex Seitz-Wald
Salon and Mother Jones have the facts on how right-wing pundits, predatory to the end, stab their own worshippers in the back. The moral: never give a scorpion a ride across the river, people.

Sunday, July 21, 2013

The Furious Fee Fees of Vox Populi

How tiresome it is to see the fee fees of vox populi being continually spooked by rustlers, triggering the predictable media stampede.
The manufactured furors over the Rolling Stone bomber cover, the New Yorker Bert & Ernie cover, "Balloon Boy," Howard Dean’s “scream,” Janet Jackson’s wardrobe malfunction — all of them nothing at all but the same cynical carny tricks that always seem fool the rubes.

Saturday, July 20, 2013

Jim Hampton: A Self Portrait

My friend Jim Hampton: The one fixed point in a changing age.

Helen Thomas: She Launched a Thousand Truths

A great American journalist has left us, one whose courage and honesty were as tall as her stature was small.
I met her once, and she was completely unassuming, completely focused on the professional mission and aware of its consequences for society.
We are diminished, my friends. And we should rededicate in her name.

Where There's a Will

Jeff Daniels as Will McAvoy
“The Newsroom’s” Will McAvoy is unaffable, contemptuous of ignorance, prickly, witty, dismissive, guarded, savagely eloquent, deeply sentimental, uncompromisingly professional, easily hurt by those he cares for and possessed of a Bruce Wayne-like compulsion to punch bullies right in the snoot.
In other words, he’s a character fully realized by Aaron Sorkin and Jeff Daniels.
At first glance, McAvoy is unlikeable, but finally he’s impossible to dislike — a characteristic well suited for the show’s romantic comedy elements.

Friday, July 19, 2013

The Lone Eagle and the Swastika

Lindbergh gets a tour from German officers.

By Dan Hagen
The Lindberghs were “perfectly thrilled” by their two visits to Nazi Germany in the 1930s, Anne Morrow Lindbergh said.
She pronounced herself “…shocked by the strictly puritanical view at home that dictatorships are of necessity wrong, evil, unstable and no good can come of them — combined with our funny-paper view of Hitler as a clown.”
Yes, people who object to being stripped of all rights and ruled with an iron fist are just so boorish, aren’t they, Anne?
Oh, well, the Lindberghs weren’t the first Americans to be wooed by the charms of totalitarian dictatorship, and they certainly weren’t the last. In 21st century America, we’ve got plenty of their fellow travelers still pining for it, in fact.
Charles Lindbergh displayed the typical virtues and flaws of an autodidact — flashes of brilliant, outside-the-box insights and mountainous blind spots. His blind spot about the Germans would cost him, and the situation wouldn’t be improved by his musings about “voluntary eugenics.”
In fact, Lindbergh’s visits to Germany provided valuable data about Nazi air power to U.S. intelligence, and that was their underlying purpose. No one but Lindbergh — the most famous man in the world at the time — could have gotten that kind of access, and few had the technical expertise that enabled Lindbergh to make such swift, astute assessments of the Luftwaffe’s progress in aviation technology. What he saw alarmed him about the prospects for peace.
Lindbergh even observed an amusing omen about the coming conflict between England and Germany, even if nobody recognized it as such.
During a luncheon at the Wilhelm Strasse residence of Hitler’s “paladin,” the rotund Hermann Goering sat on a sofa and showed off playing with his pet lion, until it urinated all over his white pant leg.
Source: ‘Lindbergh’ by A. Scott Berg

Get Over It

I just don't get all the nonsense over the Rolling Stone. It's a cover, not an endorsement. Get over it.
My god, what a dumbed-down, image-obsessed cretin culture we live in. Maybe Americans are upset to learn that monsters can be pretty, having confused reality with a Disney animated feature.
Rolling Stone has done some tremendous investigative journalism in recent years, far better than almost everything else in the corporate media. It was Rolling Stone, for example, that exposed Gen. McChrystal.
All the over-hyped “outrage” is about taking an unfair shot at a magazine that publishes some honest journalism. The right wingers never miss a trick at that.
It’s not even a poor choice for a cover, except in the sense that it fails to respect inch-deep American levels of comprehension and irony.