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Below are the 20 most recent journal entries recorded in Gregory G. H. Rihn's LiveJournal:

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Wednesday, December 28th, 2016
5:31 pm
LA LA Land
On Christmas Eve day, we went to the Oriental Theater to see LA LA Land, the new original musical movie starring Emma Stone and Ryan Gosling.

Ms. Stone, as aspiring actress Mia, plays a modern version of the old story of the young woman trying to break into movies (or television). In so doing, she has a series of more-or-less antagonistic encounters with pianist Sebastian (Mr. Gosling), who is a traditional jazz purist in a hip-hop world. After fate keeps bringing them together, they become interested in one another, and begin a relationship.

In the course of this relationship, they strike sparks off each other that result in significant changes to their lives: Sebastian takes a job with a band that doesn't quite play his kind of music in hopes that it will lead eventually to operating his own jazz club, and Mia takes to playwriting.

The story, by director Damien Chazelle, is engaging, and has some twists, including a bold ending, that take it out of the realm of cliché. The music, mostly by Justin Hurwitz, is pleasant, appropriate to the moods, and mostly forgettable. I did hear one person whistling "Mia and Sebastian's Theme," Sebastian's piano solo, but that's easiest to remember because it is reprised half a dozen times throughout the movie. The musical numbers are mostly fantasy interjections into reality, ranging from the kind of thing we always like to have happen (stalled drivers in a traffic jam getting out and dancing among the cars) to pure emotional interpretation (Seb and Mia's "dance among the stars" at Griffith Observatory). Several manage to grow organically out of the scene: leaving a party, Mia casually changes from her high heels into tap shoes, and she and Seb dance along the street.

The dancing is OK and fun, but not wonderful. There were a lot of quotes and references to famous dance numbers from past pictures (as there were in the sets, as well). Singing ditto, easy to listen to but not exciting. Of the two stars, Ms. Stone does most of the singing, in a high, rather breathy voice. It's only on her "big number," "The Fools Who Dream," that she opens up and sings with some real power.

One of the strongest parts of the film is actually the dialog. Seb has an excellent rant about what jazz is, which is followed later by his friend Keith (John Legend) challenging him, "How are you going to be a revolutionary if you're such a traditionalist? You hold on to the past, but jazz is about the future." Seb and Mia's big argument late in the film poses tough questions about life, goals, and intentions, before the inevitable degeneration into hurtfulness and resentment.

LA LA Land is a very enjoyable and intelligent updated homage to the Hollywood musical movies of the 1930's and 40's. If you care for that sort of thing, this is your cup of tea. If you have no experience of those films, you might still like it.

This entry was originally posted at http://sinister-sigils.dreamwidth.org/302655.html. Please comment there using OpenID.
Tuesday, September 27th, 2016
3:29 pm
Dionysus and Apollo at Hofstra College
Last night's Presidential debate firmed up a thought that has been floating around my mind lately, to wit, that this contest is not just one of Republican versus Democrat, or conservative versus liberal, but also Dionysian versus Apollonian.

These are two aspects of human nature, according to the ancient Greeks. The Dionysian represented the wild, the undisciplined, the primal. The Apollonian represented the civilized, the logical, the refined.

Donald Trump embodies Dionysius (or, given his age and girth, Bacchus), with his lifestyle of the rich-and-famous, his roster of beautiful wives (and presumably beautiful mistresses), and his dedication to hedonism and display. As a real-estate developer, he concentrates on posh hotels, posh casinos, by-definition posh country clubs, and posh condominium towers. His "brands" include indulgent products like Trump Vodka, and Trump Steaks. (His alleged preference for his steaks as "burnt offerings" is another connection to the god--.)

Appropriately, his entire appeal is based on emotion: he appeals to inchoate wants, to greed, anger, and fear (Pan, the god who gives us the word "panic" is often associated with Dionysus). His attractiveness is based on his wealth, power, and lustiness.

On the other hand, Hillary Clinton is highly Apollonian in her approach. She appeals to logic, reason, and common sense. Perhaps, since she is a woman, we should say that Hillary is "Athenian," since Athena, Goddess of Wisdom, partakes of many of the same attributes of Apollo and is a warrior goddess (some of Hillary's non-fans fear that she would be too aggressive--.) . (Of course, Clinton also partakes of aspects of Hera, the put-upon wife of a roving husband. She had her own martial aspect: few recall that, in the Trojan War, when Athena took the field against Ares, Hera was her charioteer.)

As follower of Apollo/Athena, I naturally prefer Clinton, but I see Trump's appeal to the insecure and angry. I don't think last night's debate will change minds among the already committed, but hopefully might have made some difference among the so-far undecided.

This entry was originally posted at http://sinister-sigils.dreamwidth.org/302410.html. Please comment there using OpenID.
Monday, September 26th, 2016
5:09 pm
Why you shouldn't not vote for Hillary Clinton
I know, the title is weird sounding. But, what I hear too much of is people who can't stomach Donald Trump, but say they don't want to vote for Hillary Clinton, because she's so dreadful. The below is excepted from a lengthier Facebook post by a man named Michael Arnoviz, that debunks much of what you may think you know. I urge you to give it a fair reading.

'"In the course of a single conversation, I have been assured that Hillary is cunning and manipulative but also crass, clueless, and stunningly impolitic; that she is a hopelessly woolly-headed do-gooder and, at heart, a hardball litigator; that she is a base opportunist and a zealot convinced that God is on her side. What emerges is a cultural inventory of villainy rather than a plausible depiction of an actual person." -Henry Louis Gates The quote above comes from a fascinating article called "Hating Hillary", written by Gates for the New Yorker in 1996. Even now, 20 years after it was first published, it's a fascinating and impressive piece, and if you have a few spare moments I strongly recommend it to you. (www.newyorker.com/...<http://l.facebook.com/l.php?u=http%3a%2f%2fwww.newyorker.com%2fmagazine%2f1996%2f02%2f26%2fhating-hillary&h=iaqg_ok8h&enc=azmtuokhixlnsyne1fw3yvlkfxkthrmtgl-usorwh8r2c8llvf1vnkcdvbhb2fn9rfalg7-089u3gkcrt4jzuejbbog3jhzpvdo_utwghdocincmtitvajky2l5snz7ae4suw3jwlphrtw72ijqtksiy&s=1>)

To conservatives she is a radical left-wing insurgent who has on multiple occasions been compared to Mikhail Suslov, the Soviet Kremlin's long-time Chief of Ideology. To many progressives (you know who you are), she is a Republican fox in Democratic sheep's clothing, a shill for Wall Street who doesn't give a damn about the working class. The fact that these views could not possibly apply to the same person does not seem to give either side pause. Hillary haters on the right and the left seem perfectly happy to maintain their mutually incompatible delusions about why she is awful. The only thing both teams seem to share is the insistence that Hillary is a Machiavellian conspirator and implacable liar, unworthy of society's trust.

So let's look at the issues people are currently using to disparage Clinton. Let's consider the issues of dishonesty, scandals, money and Wall Street.

1) Honesty - In terms of honesty, I've already addressed that. Hillary is a politician, and like all politicians she is no stranger to "massaging" and/or exaggerating the truth. And yes on occasion she will let loose a whopper. But is she worse than other politicians?

Politifact, the Pulitzer prize-winning fact-checking project, determined for example that Hillary was actually the most truthful candidate (of either Party) in the 2016 election season. And in general Politifact has determined that Hillary is more honest than most (but not all) politicians they have tracked over the years.

In January of 1996, while Whitewater investigations were underway but unfinished, conservative writer William Safire wrote a scathing and now-famous essay about Hillary Clinton entitled, "Blizzard of Lies". In the piece he called her a "congenital liar", and accused her of forcing her friends and subordinates into a "web of deceit". He insisted (without any apparent evidence) that she took bribes, evaded taxes, forced her own attorneys to perjure themselves, "bamboozled" bank regulators, and was actively involved in criminal enterprises that defrauded the government of millions of dollars. He ended the piece by stating that, "She had good reasons to lie; she is in the longtime habit of lying; and she has never been called to account for lying herself or in suborning lying in her aides and friends."

I am no political historian, but as far as I can tell this short essay was the birth of the "Hillary is a Liar" meme. Now to be clear, most conservatives already strongly disliked her. They had been upset with her for some time because she had refused to play the traditional First Lady role. And they were horrified by her attempt to champion Universal Health coverage. But if you look for the actual reasons people didn't like her back at that time, you won't see ongoing accusations of her being "crooked" or a "liar". Instead, the most common opinion seemed to be that she was a self-righteous leftist who considered anyone with other views to be morally inferior. In short, the prevailing anti-Hillary accusation was not that she was unrelentingly dishonest, but that she was just intolerably smug.

After the Safire piece however, this all changed. Republicans, who learned from Nixon never to let a good propaganda opportunity pass if they could help it, repeated the accusations of mendacity non-stop to anyone who would broadcast or print them. And if you doubt the staying power of Safire's piece, type the phrase "congenital liar" into a Google search along with "Hillary Clinton" and see what happens. To this day, that exact phrase is still proudly used by many on the right. This, even though Safire was eventually proven wrong about everything he had written. And despite the fact that he stated himself that he would have to "eat crow" if she were ever cleared, Safire never apologized or even acknowledged his many errors once that happened. Because as we all know, swift-boating means never having to say you're sorry.

The evidence suggests that she is no worse, and actually better, than most other politicians. Internet videos like the "13 minutes of Hillary lying" appear to be mostly examples of Hillary changing her position over several decades, combined with annoying but typical political behavior. But similar videos of Donald Trump exist showing him doing an even more extreme version of the same thing. Why is he not being accused of this type of mendacity? In fact there is very little dispute that Trump has been SIGNIFICANTLY less honest on the campaign trail than Hillary. According to Politifact he is in fact the least honest candidate they've ever analyzed! So if the issue of honesty is really that important, why are so many people (on the right and left) holding Hillary to such an obviously different standard than Trump?

2) Scandals - Webster's dictionary defines a scandal as, "an occurrence in which people are shocked and upset because of behavior that is morally or legally wrong." But here's a question: Are scandals still scandals if nobody actually did anything wrong? And I think that's a fair question, because Hillary's political foes love to point out all the times she has been implicated (directly or indirectly) in scandals. Not surprisingly, however, they fail to point out that she has always been cleared of any wrongdoing.

So if she's always innocent, why then does she find herself caught up in so many scandals? For that answer, perhaps we should look at the Wikipedia definition of scandal, which states, "A scandal can be broadly defined as an accusation or accusations that receive wide exposure. Generally there is a negative effect on the credibility of the person or organization involved." Notice the important difference? Perhaps the "negative effect on credibility" is not so much the RESULT of these scandals as it is the INTENT of those who create them.

Did you know that Republicans once spent 10 days and 140 hours investigating the Clinton's use of the White House Christmas Card list? Because that is a real thing that actually happened. As the Atlantic recently pointed out, "No other American politicians-even ones as corrupt as Richard Nixon, or as hated by partisans as George W. Bush-have fostered the creation of a permanent multimillion-dollar cottage industry devoted to attacking them." (And for an impressive presentation of this issue I highly recommend Hanna Rosin's piece "Among the Hillary Haters", also in the Atlantic.)

Compare for example the treatment Hillary is getting due to her private email "scandal" to that of General David Petraeus. Hillary has been accused of hosting a personal email server that "might" have made classified documents less secure, even though the documents in question were not classified as secret at the time she received and/or sent them. (Side note: some government documents receive secret classifications "at birth", while other can be retroactively classified as secret.) In order for Clinton to have committed a criminal act, she would have had to knowingly and willfully mishandle material that was classified at the time she did so. After months of investigation no one has accused her of doing that, and it doesn't appear as if anyone will.

General Petraeus on the other hand, while he was Director of the CIA, knowingly gave a journalist, who was also his mistress, a series of black books which according to the Justice Department contained, "classified information regarding the identities of covert officers, war strategy, intelligence capabilities and mechanisms, diplomatic discussions quotes and deliberative discussions from high level National Security Council meetings and [Petraeus'] discussions with the president of the United States of America." Petraeus followed that up by lying to numerous government officials, including FBI agents, about what he had done. And let's not forget that according to the Uniform Code of Military Justice, adultery is itself a court-martial offense. And I remind you that none of this is in dispute. Petraeus admitted to all of it.

Petraeus' violations were significantly more egregious than anything Clinton is even remotely accused of. And yet Republicans and other Hillary foes are howling about her issue, wearing "Hillary for Prison 2016" t-shirts while insisting that this disqualifies her from public office. Meanwhile even after pleading guilty to his crimes Petraeus continued to be the recipient of fawning sentiments from conservatives. Senator John McCain stated that, "All of us in life make mistakes and the situation now, I hope, can be put behind him..." Politico quoted a former military officer who worked with Petraeus as calling the entire situation "silly". Prominent Republicans have already made it clear that they would call him back to work in the highest levels of government if they win the Presidency. And some are still attempting to convince him to seek the Presidency himself.

Why is Hillary Clinton being held to such an obviously different standard than Petraeus? Is it really only politics?

3) Money - OK let's talk about her money. Hillary has a lot of it. And she has earned most of it through well-paid speaking fees. And the idea of getting paid $200,000 or more for a single speech seems so ludicrous to many people that they assume that it simply must be some form of bribery. But the truth is that there is a large, well-established and extremely lucrative industry for speaking and appearance fees. And within that industry many celebrities, sports stars, business leaders and former politicians get paid very well. At her most popular for example, Paris Hilton was being paid as much as $750,000 just to make an appearance. Kylie Jenner was once paid over $100,000 to go to her own birthday party, and to this day Vanilla Ice gets $15,000 simply to show up with his hat turned sideways.

And let's talk about the more cerebral cousin of the appearance agreement, which is the speaking engagement. Is $200k really that unusual? In fact "All American Speakers", the agency that represents Clinton, currently represents 135 people whose MINIMUM speaking fee is $200,000. Some of the luminaries that get paid this much include: Guy Fieri, Ang Lee, Carla Delevingne, Chelsea Handler, Elon Musk, Mehmet Oz, Michael Phelps, Nate Berkus, and "Larry the Cable Guy". And no that last one is not a joke. And if you drop the speaking fee to $100k, the number of people they represent jumps to over 500. At $50,000 the number jumps to over 1,200. And All American Speakers are obviously not the only agency that represents speakers. So there are in fact thousands of people getting paid this kind of money to give a speech.

For millions of Americans struggling to pay their bills, the very idea that someone can make $100,000 or more for just giving a speech or hanging out at a Vegas nightclub is obscene. But as Richard Nixon used to say, "don't hate the player, hate the game." Hillary didn't invent the speaking engagement industry, and she isn't anywhere near the first person to make a lot of money from it. And while her fees are in the upper range of what speakers make, neither they nor the total amount of money she has made are unusual. It's just unusual FOR A WOMAN.

And yes, I'm back on that, because I feel compelled to point out that before he ran for President in 2007, Rudy Giuliani was making about $700,000 a month in speaking fees with an average of $270k per speech. It's estimated that in the 5 years before his run he earned as much as $40 million in speaking fees. Nobody cared, no accusations of impropriety were made, and there was almost no media interest. So why did Giuliani get a pass, while Hillary stands accused of inherent corruption for making less money doing the same thing?

And speaking of corruption, after leaving the Florida governor's office Jeb Bush made millions of dollars in paid speeches. This includes large sums he collected from a South Korean metals company that reaped over a BILLION dollars in contracts from his brother's presidential administration. Speaking to an Indian newspaper about this type of thing Bush said, "This is the life of being the brother of the president." Do you remember reading all about that while Jeb was running for President? I didn't think so. Jeb got a pass too.

So if this discussion is really about money in politics that's fine. But I'm going to need someone to explain to me why we only seem to focus on it when the person making the money has a vagina.

4) Wall Street - First things first. No, the majority of the money Clinton has made from speaking fees did not come from Wall Street. In fact it's not even close. She has given nearly 100 paid speeches since leaving the State Dept., and only 8 were to "Wall Street" banks. Nearly all of her speeches were to organizations like American Camping Association, EBay, Cisco, Xerox, Cardiovascular Research Foundation, United Fresh Produce Association, International Deli-Dairy-Bakery Association, California Medical Association, A&E Television Networks, Massachusetts Conference for Women, U.S. Green Building Council, National Association of Realtors, American Society of Travel Agents, Gap, National Association of Convenience Stores, the National Association of Chain Drug Stores, Institute of Scrap Recycling Industries, etc.

Corporations and Associations pay large fees for important speakers all of the time. And Hillary got booked fairly often because she is interesting and popular, and because there's a great deal of status attached to having her speak at an event. Ignoring all of this however, a large contingent of anti-Hillary people continue to insist that all speaker's fees from Wall Street banks were bribes, and that because of this they "own" her. But by that logic shouldn't we all be asking what the fuck the American Camping Association is up to?

Also, with the possible exception of one speech given to Deutsche Bank, all of Hillary's 8 speeches to Wall Street were for a speaking fee of $225,000. That does not even break the top 20 of her highest paid speeches. For example she received over $275,000 each in three speeches she gave to The Vancouver Board of Trade, the Board of Trade of Metropolitan Montreal, and Canada 2020. So apparently Canadians also "own" her. And I don't know what those nefarious Canadians are up to, but it probably has something to do with goddamn poutine. Which would really piss me off except I just remembered that I kind of like poutine so never mind.

And again: why is Hillary being held to a standard that never appears to be applied to her male counterparts? Am I not supposed to notice that a media frenzy has been aimed at Hillary Clinton for accepting speaking fees of $225,000 while Donald Trump has been paid $1.5 MILLION on numerous occasions with hardly a word said about it? Am I supposed to not notice that we are now in an election season in which Donald Trump, a proud scam artist whose involvement in "Trump University" alone is being defined by the New York Attorney General as "straight-up fraud", is regularly calling Hillary Clinton "Crooked Hillary" and getting away with it?

What the actual fuck is going on here? What's going on is what we all know, but mostly don't want to admit: presidential campaigns favor men, and the men who campaign in them are rewarded for those traits perceived as being "manly" - physical size, charisma, forceful personality, assertiveness, boldness and volume. Women who evince those same traits however are usually punished rather than rewarded, and a lot of the negativity aimed at Hillary over the years, especially when she is seeking office, has been due to these underlying biases. There is simply no question that Hillary has for years been on the business end of an unrelenting double standard. And her battle with societal sexism isn't going to stop because of her success anymore than Obama's battle with racism stopped once he was elected. These are generational issues, and we are who we are.

And actually, this only makes her victory all the more amazing. And maybe it's OK if we pause for a moment from the accusations and paranoia and just acknowledge her enormous accomplishments. In the entire history of our nation, only 6 Presidents have also served as Secretary of State. Only 3 have served both as Secretary of State and in Congress. By any objective measure Hillary Clinton is not just the most qualified candidate this season, she's one of the most qualified people to ever seek the office. The New York Times in endorsing her stated that, "voters have the chance to choose one of the most broadly and deeply qualified presidential candidates in history." Jonathan Bernstein at Bloomberg stated that, "she is probably the best qualified presidential candidate ever." Even Marco Rubio, one-time choice of the GOP establishment (and tea-party love-child) stated in a Republican debate that, "If this is a resume contest, Hillary Clinton is going to be the new President of the United States."

Hillary is nobody's idea of perfect. Fine. But in my view if a man with her qualifications were running in the Democratic primary, Bernie would have been done before he even started. And if a man with her qualifications had been running for the Republicans, they'd be anointing him the next Reagan while trying to sneak his face onto Mount Rushmore.'

This entry was originally posted at http://sinister-sigils.dreamwidth.org/302209.html. Please comment there using OpenID.
Tuesday, September 20th, 2016
4:11 pm
Why You Must Not Vote for Donald Trump
My great concern about Donald Trump is not so much his general loose-cannon attitude, which is bad enough. What seriously worries me is his lack of actual policy thought, which conflicts with his say-whatever-he-thinks-will-win approach. His personal platform is that it would be good to be President, and that's where it ends.

So, while Trump is out cutting ribbons and trying to bully foreign leaders, the country will be run by "Tea Party" Pence, and a probable Republican Congress lead by Paul Ryan. All they need to do is the minimum necessary to stroke Trump's ego, and they can ramrod through the entirety of the hideously regressive Republican Party platform. Just look at what Ryan has been proposing for budgets for the past few terms and you will see what we will be getting.

Sure, the Congress will pass a law authorizing Trump's Wall. Then, they spend the next four years arguing about how to fund it (assuming cooler heads prevail and Congress doesn't actually want to initiate an economic war with Mexico by expropriating Mexican assets or something staggeringly stupid like that).

Meanwhile, The Duce-er, The Donald-will happily sign all the legislation Ryan and co. send him, which will essentially turn the clock back to 1890. The Affordable Care Act will be repealed and replaced with nothing. Medicare will get privatized and replaced with a clumsy and ineffective voucher system. Social Security will get privatized and turned over to the same geniuses that brought us the crash of 2008, so that they can suck off a cut of the trust funds. Any attempts at campaign finance reform will be dead.

The National Labor Relations Board and unions generally will be on the chopping block. You can expect a national "right to work" law and other actions intent on destroying worker's rights and workplace protections. Any consumer protections like Dodd-Frank or the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau will be scrapped.
Women's rights, LGBT rights, any kind of minority protections will go right down the tubes. Inequality will be sanctified and enshrined as the "American Way." Essentially, by the end of a Trump term, the only people who will legally matter will be well-off white, Protestant, straight males who are native-born citizens. Even though technically I fit into this demographic, I find these aims "deplorable."

We can expect the EPA and the Departments of Energy and Education to be neutered if not dismantled entirely. The first two are consistent with the return to "Robber Baron" days, when a man could do what he liked with his property and hang the consequences, and any neighbors without money enough to bring a private lawsuit could go hang, too.

Social conservatives have been waging war on public schools ever since school prayer was banned, and taking down any attempts to have national educational standards will accelerate the further degradation of public school systems and funneling money into private or religious schools that are free to teach backward doctrines like "creation science," abstinence-only sexual education (if any at all--), and the supremacy of the white race*. Publicly funded universities will essentially become technical schools that produce no inconvenient research. NASA and other government agencies that report unwanted findings about climate change, pollution, bad drugs, or you name it, will be muzzled, censored, or defunded.

So, if there is a Trump presidency, we will have the Republican idea of "small government"-which means that teachers, doctors, scientists, regulators, and social programs will go by the board, while the military, spies, and police have all the money they could wish for.

This is not making America great again, unless your idea of great was Grover Cleveland's second term (1893-1897). This is not the America we live in now, nor, I think, is it the America we want for the future.

(* The myopically racist books of 19th Century historical novelist G.A. Henty, author of With Lee in Virginia, among others, are recommended by, and, not coincidentally, kept in print and for sale by conservative home-schooling advocates.)

This entry was originally posted at http://sinister-sigils.dreamwidth.org/301892.html. Please comment there using OpenID.
Sunday, September 4th, 2016
7:11 pm
American Players Theater, “King Lear,” and “Arcadia”

On Sunday, August 28, we went to American Players Theatre near Spring Green for a “double-header” of Shakespeare’s “King Lear,” and “Arcadia,” by Tom Stoppard.

APT’s new production of “King Lear” featured Jonathan Smoots in the title role, and was done modern dress, with some current-era props and effects. Lear’s division of his kingdom is done as an outdoor press-conference, complete with podium and visual aids. Lear’s elder daughters, Goneril (Laura Rook) and Regan (Kelsey Brennan) show up in sleek and stylish outfits modeled on some worn by current real-world princesses. Cordelia (Melisa Pereya), on the other hand, is more girlish and nerdy, a presentation that suits her earnest character.

In this scene, we also meet the Duke of Gloucester (James Ridge), the Duchess of Kent (Greta Oglesby), and Gloucester’s illegitimate son, Edmund (Marcus Truschinski), all of whom will have a sizable role to play in the drama to come.

I did not think the modern setting worked for Lear as well as for some other Shakespeare plays, and in some ways clunked, notably the fight scenes. In an era where assault rifles are common, hand-to-hand combat often takes a back seat for logical reasons. It’s not very credible when unarmed Edgar (Eric Parks), who’s been living rough as “Poor Tom” and who has been portrayed as a playboy rather than a fighter, takes down Goneril’s messenger Oswald (Christopher Sheard), who’s already covering him with a pistol. When Edgar challenges Edmund, their “duel” is a bare-handed wrestling match, unlikely even if portrayed in the mythic Britain of Shakespeare. Giving soldiers modern assault gear and weapons somehow made them more menacing than if they had been outfitted with mail and swords.

On the other hand, some of the role gender-shifting made more feasible by the modern setting worked well. When Kent (Oglesby) is banished by Lear, she renders herself unrecognizable by assuming the clothes, manners, and accent of a working-class black woman. Cristina Panfilio gives the role of Lear’s Fool a female stand-up comedian vibe, and does her songs in an indie-folk style that works well.

While a fine, solid, and affecting performance, I wasn’t totally satisfied with Smoots’ Lear. Lear starts the play as an aged, but vigorous man, and, through the course of events, becomes more aged both physically and mentally, such that, by the end, he dies through a combination of exhaustion and lack of a will to live. We really didn’t see that in this performance, as Lear blusters on nearly unstoppably until the final scene.

The character who really goes through the wringer in this production is Ridge’s Gloucester, who goes from a strong and confident character to a broken man after his blinding. Truschinski, playing a relatively rare villain role, was believable as a man capable of fooling his father and seducing both Goneril and Regan.  Kudos, too, to Ms. Rook and Ms. Brennan who succeeded in giving Goneril and Regan distinctive characters, instead of making them just the two “ugly sisters.” Brennan’s Regan is a wheedler, free with fake smiles and hugs. She makes a good consort for her thuggish husband, Cornwall (Bobby Bowman), whereas Ms. Rook as Goneril freely lets her claws show, compensating for what she sees as the conscience-ridden weakness of her husband, Albany (Cedric Mays).

I didn’t mind the modern costuming—after a while I pretty much ignored it, although there were a couple of inexplicable choices: Although all the other soldiers are in modern dress, including the Duke of Albany, Edmund, as leader of Cornwall’s forces, wears a 19th Century general’s uniform, apparently only so he can have a sword that is used later. Regan, in her last appearance, is given an outfit that is more suited for clubbing at a particularly louche nightspot, rather than visiting a battlefield. Odd.


We were glad to see that APT was doing Tom Stoppard’s “Arcadia,” which is a favorite of ours. It is a dauntingly intricate play, not only to stage, with its intersecting character sets from 1809 and the “present day,” but intellectually and linguistically as well.  The director’s notes remark that the play includes: “Lord Byron, Sir Issac Newton, love, the Second law of Thermodynamics, grouse, Chaos Theory, the history of landscape gardening, Time’s Arrow, fractals and iterated algorithms, and the Classical and Romantic temperaments. It is a detective story and a story of the ecstatic hunger of wanting to know, well, everything.”

The play in 1809 focuses on Thomasina Coverly (Rebecca Hurd), a mathematically gifted young girl, and her tutor, Septimus Hodge (Nate Burger). Thomasina is on the verge of mathematical breakthroughs that won’t be rediscovered for 150 years or more. Hodge, on the other hand, is on the verge of being embroiled in a duel over the easy virtue of the wife of his friend, Ezra Chater (Casey Hoekstra).

In the modern day, the Coverly’s stately home has become a sort of informal research center: Valentine Coverly (Steve Haggard), computer scientist, is attempting to codify the estate’s game books in order to derive an algorithm for the breeding cycles of grouse; Hannah Jarvis (Colleen Madden), a writer, is researching the transformation of the estate’s Classical 18th Century landscaping into a 19th Century Romantic design; and egotistical academic Bernard Nightingale (Jim DeVita) descends upon the property in hot pursuit of some possible unknown history of Lord Byron.

The braided stories intertwine fascinatingly. In the 19th Century, we gradually see what actually happened play out, while in the 20th, we see how even the most well-meaning research can take itself down wrong paths.

All of the cast members were absolutely fine, and handled the difficult text with perfect clarity and exquisite timing. Not only is it intellectually challenging, it’s laugh-out-loud funny (and even funnier if you get all the references).

This entry was originally posted at http://sinister-sigils.dreamwidth.org/301679.html. Please comment there using OpenID.
Friday, August 19th, 2016
9:44 pm
You must see "Kubo and the Two Strings"
Georgie and I just came back from seeing it. We loved it. It is one of the most beautiful movies I have seen. The stop-motion animation is simply amazing and rivals any CGI. The story is original, magical, and fantastic. The ending is redemptive. The movie starts, "If you need to blink, do it now--."

This entry was originally posted at http://sinister-sigils.dreamwidth.org/301324.html. Please comment there using OpenID.
Sunday, August 14th, 2016
7:22 pm
Trump’s Problem

As opposed to the “problem with Trump,” which is a separate set of issues--. Donald Trump’s problem is that he is spoiled. He is a big, spoiled, brat.  He is used to, with some justice, feeling invulnerable. For decades, he has been an absolute boss, with no one to supervise or gainsay him.  His years of “reality” TV have gotten him used to the idea that the more outrageous you are, the better, and the more applause you get.  Such filters as he has have totally corroded, to the point that he blurts out any half-formed phase that makes its way to his speech centers. He is, as George Orwell describes, a “double-plus good duckspeaker.” In 1984, Part 1, Chapter 5, page 46-47 he says:

‘...Winston turned a little sideways in his chair to drink his mug of coffee. At the table on his left the man with the strident voice was still talking remorselessly away....He held some important post in the FICTION DEPARTMENT....It was just a noise, a quack-quack-quacking....Every word of it was pure orthodoxy, pure Ingsoc....Winston had a curious feeling that this was not a real human being but some kind of dummy. It was not the man's brain that was speaking, it was his larynx. The stuff that was coming out of him consisted of words, but it was not speech in the true sense: it was noise uttered in unconsciousness, like the quacking of a duck.

Syme had fallen silent for a moment, and with the handle of his spoon was tracing patterns in the puddle of stew. The voice from the other table quacked rapidly on, easily audible in spite of the surrounding din.

"There is a word in Newspeak" said Syme, "I don't know whether you know it: duckspeak, to quack like a duck. It is one of those interesting words that have two contradictory meanings. Applied to an opponent, it is abuse: applied to someone you agree with, it is praise.”’

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Tuesday, August 9th, 2016
7:08 pm
Milwaukee Art Museum, Old Masters and Others

We went to the Milwaukee Art Museum Saturday, August 6th to see the current shows.

In particular, we went to see “From Rembrandt to Parmigiano: Old Masters from Private Collections.”  As it is described, the paintings and drawings in this exhibition are on loan from private owners, and not normally on public display.  The exhibit consists of fifty-one paintings and drawings lent by a number of collectors in the Upper Midwest, lead by local philanthropist Alfred Bader, who has just donated two additional significant pieces of 17th Century art to the Museum.

Of particular interest were the first two rooms, which concerned “history painting,”  a major genre of the 16-1700’s, which includes the depiction of Biblical and mythological scenes as well as purely historical. These included works by one of Rembrandt’s teachers, Pieter Lastman; van Rijn himself; and van Rijn’s studio-mate and colleague, Jan Lievens.  There were also some interesting examples of paintings “attributed to” Rembrandt, or assigned to the “circle of Rembrandt,” which means probably painted by one of Rembrandt’s assistants/students.

The exhibit very interestingly shows the evolution of new painting styles that evolved during this period, including the still-life, landscape painting, and portraiture.  Interestingly, the Protestant Reformation may have had a very significant effect on the world of art. Since Dutch Protestant painters no longer had the Catholic Church to rely on as patron, they had to find subjects that would appeal to new potential customers, mainly the moneyed burghers of the Netherlands.

The later period rooms, which include more Italian artists, also show evolution of styles, such as the deliberate distortion of figure proportion used by Parmigiano in some of his paintings, and other departures from naturalistic depiction, such as the very marked chiaroscuro used in the Mannerist style.

This was a fascinating exhibit, and we were very glad to have seen it.

The other exhibition we particularly went to see was “Corot, Daubigny, Millet: Visions of France,” which consisted of a collection of forty-one prints from the museum’s collection. These were done in an early sort of photo-etching technique called cliché-verre, or “glass negative.” In this technique, a glass plate was coated with ink, and then the ink removed to create an image. The plate was then placed on photographic paper and exposed to make a contact print.  This was a very quick and simple printing process, and some artists used it as a sketching medium or to preserve quick drawings.

This exhibit is taken from a collected set of prints by the artists  Jean-Baptist Camille Corot, Charles-Francois Daubigny, and Jean-Francois Millet, all members of the “Barbizon School”, which preferred naturalism over romanticized subjects. The set, collected by art dealer Maurice Le Garrec in 1921, consists of rural scenes of France.  The very simplicity of the medium brings the personal approaches of the artists into sharp contrast.  Although all were famed landscape artists capable of very finely finished works, Corot’s prints are extremely sketchy, as though making memoranda for later. On the other hand, Daubigny’s prints are much more finished works, good enough looking to be displayed like woodcuts or etchings.

The big exhibit going on at the Museum currently is “American Epics: Thomas Hart Benton and Hollywood.”  Benton was a 20th Century American painter and muralist associated with the Regionalist movement. The exhibit focuses on his visit to Hollywood in 1938, in which he was commissioned to create a series of paintings about the movie industry. Given broad access, he drew many sketches, some of which were eventually amplified into full-sized paintings. Many of the sketches and intermediate treatments are on display, as well as paintings from the series. The exhibit also includes a number of paintings from a series dealing with the early American Indian Wars, and other subjects.

Benton’s paintings are big, bold, and dynamic, with sharp contrasts of dark and light (rather like a modern version of the Mannerist paintings we had seen upstairs).  The figures all tend to have heroic proportions,  in a fashion I associate with WPA murals or Communist Propaganda, but without the typical sharp-edged drafting.  Benton’s figures tend to be very blobby, for lack of a better term. His tempera painting is two-dimensional with large areas of flat color, which gives the impression that the figures were molded out of clay and then squashed onto the canvas with a rolling pin.

Historically, Benton did some very significant pieces, among them The Year of Peril, begun in 1941, which warned of the dangers of Fascism and Nazism with nightmarish images which both harked back to the propaganda posters of World War I, and pointed the way for those that would come in World War II. However, Georgie and I both agreed that Mr. Benton’s artwork was not to our taste, however significant.

After looking at the exhibits, we had lunch at the Café Calatrava, the small restaurant in the Museum. Informal, it is located on the lower level of the Calatrava Wing, and has an unrestricted view of the lake. The menu is not large, but offered a good range of choices.  I had the Roasted Hanger Steak, accompanied by a salad of Romanesco, arugula, and parmigiano, with an aged balsamic dressing, that was very good. Georgie had whitefish, which was also very nice. Service was fast and friendly. We would definitely eat there again.


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Wednesday, August 3rd, 2016
7:31 pm
German Fest 2016
On Sunday afternoon, July 31st, we went to the festival grounds on the lakefront for German Fest. We hadn’t been to a German Fest for several years and wanted to get back to it.

We had a good time walking around the grounds and sampling music on a lovely afternoon. There was a good turnout, but the grounds were not packed like it would have been for Summerfest or Irish Fest.

Among the groups we listened to was Alpensterne, a quartet from Minnesota, who performs traditional tunes to a rock beat, with some of the fastest yodeling we have ever heard. They put on a very lively, fun show that had a lot of the audience members up and dancing.

The Donau Schwaben youth dance group put on a charming display of traditional dancing, most of which were couples dances. The group had four young men and six young women, an unusually good proportion for folk groups, which tend to be female-heavy. (Although it must be said that only one of the young men appeared to be enjoying himself: the others expressions ranged from Solemn Duty to Grim Death--.)

(A semi-serious tip for young men seeking to make friends with nice young women: seek out an ethnic dance group you can reasonably express interest in. You don’t necessarily have to be that ethnicity, and knowing the language isn’t required. All you need to do is to be willing to learn to dance. You will be outnumbered by young women who are typically healthy, in good shape, care about their appearances, and likely have nice, old-fashioned values. The enterprising young gentleman should be able to take it from there--.)

Another group was the Pommersche Spaldeel Freistadt, a community cultural group from Freistad, Wisconsin, which has a long tradition of preserving its ethnic Pomeranian culture. (Pomerania is a region that makes up Northeastern Germany, including the city of Gdansk, and Northwestern Poland. Ethnically and linguistically the people are Germanic. Since great-great grandfather Otto emigrate to America from Gdansk/Danzig as was, I had thought there was a chance that we were Pomeranian. However, having checked the Festival’s name lists in the past, the name Rihn only shows up as Prussian.)

Unusually for an ethnic festival, I had difficulty getting something to eat for dinner, not because there wasn’t anything, but due to timing. I had wanted spanferkel (spit-roasted pork), which I am particularly fond of, but found they were out, and the next pig wasn’t due off the spit for two hours. Mader’s German Restaurant had a tent with sit-down service and a good looking menu, but almost the moment we sat down, we were blasted out of the tent by a German brass band playing at parade volume ten feet away. I finally got a nice kassler ripchen at one of the volunteer-staffed booths. Georgie had a very good Wiener schnitzel from another booth.

We had a good look at the vendors, and Georgie found a nice ring set with three colors of amber, which was nicely priced so we bought it. We had a very pleasant time, and were glad we had gone.

One thing that struck me is how different the various ethnic fests are in character. Irish Fest, which we always go to, is very large, the largest Irish Music festival anywhere in the world. Most of the performers that take part these days are professionals (depending on how you count the various Irish Dance schools). Music is mostly traditional, although groups like Gaelic Storm are quite modern, and sung in English, a good thing in my opinion, since I don’t find Gaelic a very pretty language to listen to. The spirit is pretty much always jolly fun, what the Irish call craic. Quite often a significant number of the performers are not local and some from Ireland or other countries.

German Fest, on the other hand, is more earnest fun. There are more amateur groups represented, music is mostly traditional, and mostly sung in German. Most of the performers are relatively local, although there’s usually some group from Germany like a children’s choir or church choir. Dance groups tend to be community groups: if there’s a school of German dance out there I haven’t heard of it.

After having been to Irish Fest, I excitedly went to an early Festa Italiana, looking forward to finding out a lot about Italian folk music. I was surprised therefore, to find out that the ideal Festa performer would have been Tony Bennett or Dean Martin, had they been able to get them. (Bennett may actually have been here since--.) So, most of the music was basically “lounge” music, with a smattering of opera. The one group from Italy I recall was a Sicilian brass band. The major attractions were Italian food (good, but I can get that any time) and the still outstanding fireworks display, which one can see perfectly well for free from outside the grounds, so I haven’t been back for a long while. (Looking up this year's entertainment schedule for Festa, that's still pretty much what it's like: Joe Scalissi: Dean Martin Tribute; Doo Wop Daddies; John Micheal Coppola and the Four C-Notes (UW Marching Band 5th Quarter Performance??).)
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Tuesday, August 2nd, 2016
7:23 pm
Milwaukee Dragon Boat Festival, 2016
On Saturday, July 30th, we attended the Milwaukee Dragon Boat Festival, held at the Veteran’s Park Lagoon on the lakefront. This annual event is organized by the Milwaukee Chinese Community Center. When we got there, we were immediately impressed by how many people had turned out. We found that there were more than forty teams taking part. Since a standard Dragon Boat requires a crew of twenty rowers, plus coxswain and drummer, that meant that there were more than 800 racers, plus supporters and festival volunteers taking part, not to mention unaffiliated spectators like ourselves.

I was rather surprised to see that there IS such a thing as a standard Dragon Boat, but there is. They resemble modern canoes in construction, wide enough to seat two paddlers abreast. The paddlers use a specialized paddle, similar to a canoe paddle, which evokes the boat’s probable ancestry as something like the Polynesian “war canoe,” but without outriggers. The boat comes to a point at either end. The steersman stands at the stern, steering with an oar, and the drummer perches on an elevated stool in the bow facing the paddlers. The boats come with small detachable decorative dragon heads and tails that are attached for racing.

The festivities officially began with Opening Ceremonies at 10:30AM, with introductions of dignitaries, including the Chinese Consul up from Chicago. There was a traditional Dragon Dance, preceded by the ritual “Wakening of the Dragon,” in which case the pupils of the eyes of the dragon puppet were drawn in. For this dragon dance, the performers held the puppet aloft on poles, and wove it intricately around and about with motions that reminded me of a drill team.

This was followed by music and dance performances of a number of different traditions and styles, martial arts demonstrations, and a fashion show of the famous Chinese dress style, the qipao (also known as cheongsam, or sometimes “Mandarin dress.”)

Many of Milwaukee’s large companies have gone all in sponsoring boats. Harley-Davidsan had four boats, Miller Coors two, Northwestern Mutual three, and Rockwell Automation a croggling eleven boats!

Heats had been going on since 8:00 that morning, since Dragon Boat racing is a bit like horse racing, in that an individual race doesn’t last long, and there’s a bit of reshuffling time between heats. In the interims, there was a small number of vendors to browse, and a number of alternative food sellers. We got teriyaki chicken on skewers for lunch, which Georgie found too salty, but I thought was OK.

We didn’t stay until the championship races, which happened at 4:00PM—a long day of racing for some participants! It’s hard to tell from the web site if there was an overall winner, but the fastest time of the day was one minute, 19.78 seconds, by Arashi-Pilot Freight Services, in the Diamond Championship Final Race.
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7:06 pm
Spoileriffic Nitpicks for Star Trek Beyond
Continuing my recent tradition of dissecting SF and fantasy films deviations from logic and common sense, I see no reason to spare Star Trek Beyond, although it’s less bad than some. Accepting that the Star Trek Universe is a science-fantasy one, though a step removed from outright pulp like Star Wars, I gloss over questions like how does it happen that Krall’s swarming drones happen to be warp-capable, and just what powers them? And, OK, Krall’s mad, so that excuses why he didn’t use the alien tech to escape the planet years ago, or use the fabbing equipment to build a regular starship instead of a swarm of drones that vastly outmasses the Enterprise. The alien bio-weapon doesn’t seem to work in any sensible fashion, but then, the aliens attempted to get rid of it because it was too dangerous--.

On the logic front, there is the question of why didn’t Kirk have the shields up approaching the unknown planet? They had to have been up getting through the rock-crushing debris fields of the nebula, so why turn them off?

On the tech front, the first appearance of Jaylah’s hologram technology is confusing. She uses a portable device to create hologrammatic, independently acting duplicates of herself, which, it seemed actually hit some of the bad guys. This presumably alien tech is superior to the Next Gen holodeck technology since it is portable and programmable on the fly. (Projection: Jaylah, who’s been accepted for Star Fleet Academy, finds that Federation sim tech is less sophisticated than hers, goes into business supplying what becomes Holodeck/emergency medical hologram equipment, and retires very rich--).

The design of Starbase Yorktown is wondrous, but nonsensical in a number of ways. Why should a starship be able to “drive” all the way to the center of the base when there’s no reason for it to, and many why it shouldn’t? The master ventilator node is located at the physical center of the spherical construct, but only accessible by a series of perilous ladders. The answer to that one, is so that there can be an exciting fight scene, but that’s pretty much the rationale for the whole film.
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7:01 pm
Star Trek Beyond
Wednesday night, July 27th, we went to the Avalon Theatre to see the latest installment of the rebooted Star Trek franchise. I was interested because this was a new story, having skipped Into Darkness, the Wrath of Khan remake.

Star Trek Beyond is big, flashy, and loud. After starting off with a bit of humor and some contemplation, Kirk (Chris Pine) and the Enterprise are detailed for a rescue mission: an alien (non-Federation) survey ship has been lost in one of the universe’s many uncharted nebulas.
When the Enterprise succeeds in reaching the mysterious planet at the heart of the nebula, the ship is almost instantly attacked by a swarming horde of drone craft, which chew the ship to bits, and provide cover for pirate boarding craft. After a lengthy sequence of combat and disaster in space, the largest relatively intact part, the saucer, crash-lands.

Most of the surviving crew, having taken to the escape pods, find themselves captured by Krall (Idris Elba), an alien who somewhat resembles both a “Reman” from the Next Gen movie Star Trek: Nemesis, or the alien talking head from the Original Series episode, “The Corbomite Maneuver.”

Krall seems to have both a particular, though unaccountable, grudge against the Federation and a pipeline into Federation data resources.
Of course, Kirk, Spock, McCoy, Scott, and Chekov (Zachary Quinto, Karl Urban, Simon Pegg, and Anton Yelchin) evade capture by various means, but not without mishaps. Scott encounters warrior Jaylah (Sofia Boutella), who provides them a great deal of aid in rescuing the crew from Krall, and hindering Krall’s mad plan to bring war to the Federation.

I won’t go into further detail of the plot here: suffice to say that’s it’s pretty improbable, but not necessarily so much as to be jeering-at-the-screen stupid. Once the aliens attack the Enterprise, it’s pretty much non-stop action, to the extent that all the smashing, bashing, crashing, and flashing gets wearing. (Director Justin Lin was previously known for three episodes of the Fast & Furious auto race/chase/wreck movies--).
The particular good parts include the developing relationship between Spock and McCoy, and between Spock and Uhura, and the lines that Simon Pegg (one of the film’s writers) evidently wrote for himself as Scott. (I find it interesting that Kirk doesn’t seem to have any romantic impulses toward any characters. Even Yeoman Janet Rand, who used to cast longing looks at the Captain, didn’t make the cut into the new timeline. If this would have been a TOS episode, there would have been sparks of lust between Kirk and Jaylah. Instead, there’s a faint possibility of “geek love” between her and Scott--).

And of course, the movie looks fantastic. Special effects are up to par, with the destruction of the Enterprise being harrowing and effective. Best of all is Starbase Yorktown, an amazing concept of an artificial planet, which McCoy derides as looking like a “snow globe,” but which more resembles one of those Perplexus puzzle spheres, with interior buildings growing every which way, possible due to artificial gravity (an effect rather like the dream-sequences in Inception--). The design is “illogical,” but it sure is cool. Some things are a bit overdone, like the hostile planetary surface, a hell of jagged rock that makes the approaches to Peter Jackson’s Mordor look like parkland. The CGI designers must have been frustrated that so much of the action takes place on the planet or the starbase, because the end-title sequence includes some of the most beautiful renderings of nebulae and spatial phenomena I have seen, and is well worth sitting through.

Recommended for series fans with stamina.

Arriving at the Avalon Theater early, we were intrigued to find that, instead of the endless run of ads and promotional materials other theatres run between shows, they ran a couple of short subjects, which in this case, were both science-fictional. Rise, a highly produced short dealing with a developing war between humans and robots, starred well-known actor Rufus Sewell, and the late Anton (Chekov) Yelchin. It looked interesting, but we came in in the middle. Another was an extended music video titled “Holding on to Life”, by a group called Broken Bells, which appeared to be set in a version of the world of Logan’s Run. Neither the music nor the visuals were very compelling, I watched mainly to see if it would jell into something intelligible. It didn’t, but if it’s an extended trailer for some project, it wouldn’t have to.

And, speaking of trailers, we saw ones for a WWII movie, Anthropoid (it’s a code name--), Suicide Squad, XXX: Return of Xander Cage, Jack Reacher: Never Go Back; and Star Wars: Rogue One, all of which seem to be full of the old ultra-violence. Anthropoid looked well-made and interesting; I might see Suicide Squad on my own for the hell of it; Rogue One of course—ironically, it’s the least violent appearing; and give Xander and Jack passes. (Vin Diesel is getting a bit pudgy to be the action hero. On the other hand, I wager there is a seedy-looking portrait in Tom Cruise’s attic--).
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6:59 pm
Hunt for the Wilderpeople
On Sunday, July 23, we went to the Downer Theatre to see Hunt for the Wilderpeople, a film from New Zealand made by the same director as What We Do In the Shadows, the quirky vampire movie I previously reviewed, Taika Watiti.

The Wilderpeople is almost entirely different from that earlier outing. Although also very funny, it is a sweet, sincere movie that we found charming. It also doesn’t hurt that much of the film is shot in New Zealand’s gorgeous wilderness, which makes it a visual feast for the eyes.

The plot centers on Ricky (Julian Dennison), a very urban juvenile delinquent whose on his last attempt at being foster-placed before being sent to juvenile prison. We see him being taken far out in the country to the home of Bella (Rima Te Wiata) and Hec (Sam Neill), on the not-all-that-bad theory that taking him out of his urban environment may bring about positive change.

Bella is a woman of native ancestry, who hopes one day to make a better connection with her roots. She gains great “cred” with Ricky when he sees her single-handedly kill a feral pig with her knife, whooping with excitement as she does. However, she’s also very tender-hearted, and wants Ricky as a child she hasn’t had, a warmth that Ricky responds to. (American viewers may not fully appreciate how caring a gesture a filled hot water bottle in bed is, in a house with no central heating--.)

Hec, on the other hand, is a dour man who doesn’t want Ricky, and barely tolerates his presence for Bella’s sake.

When Bella dies suddenly, both Hec and Ricky are devastated. When it looks like it will be juvenile prison for Ricky since no one else wants him, and he can’t stay with Hec alone, he lights out for the hills, relying on the woodcraft he’s learned from Hec and Bella.

He’s soon overtaken by Hec, a far superior woodsman, but Hec takes a fall that injures his ankle, forcing them to camp in the woods for weeks until he’s able to walk home. When they encounter a group of jerky hunters (hunters that are jerks, not hunting jerky--), they find out that they are “wanted” and that Hec is suspected of kidnapping and sexually abusing Ricky.

He, it turns out, has been in prison years ago, can’t face the possibility of going back, and won’t abandon Ricky to the juvenile version, so the two head back to the wilderness. However, the report that they have been encountered and escaped, sets off a serious manhunt fanatically lead by social worker Paula (Rachel House), who is about equal parts Miss Hannigan from “Annie,” and Inspector Javert from “Les Miserables,” with a dash of Nurse Ratched from “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest,” thrown in.

The pair manage to elude capture for months, becoming famous and romantic outlaws in the process. They have numerous adventures and hairbreadth escapes before being finally brought to bay.

The ultimate conclusion is both surprising and pleasing. While the plot might not be entirely new (I seem to recall other films with a similar premise, although I can’t think of a title now--), the handling is fresh and delightful. Highly recommended.
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3:44 pm
Donald Trump vs. the Wrath of Khan
Donald Trump's performance sticking his foot in his mouth over the last week or so further demonstrates why he is unfit to be president of the United States. He has shown himself to be both thoughtless and petty.

Thoughtless, because his decades of being an untouchably rich absolute despot in business, and his years on "reality TV," where being outrageous is a good thing, have corroded his filters to the point that he blurts out any half-formed thought that impinges on his speech centers. His supposedly "sarcastic" remark inviting Russia to attempt to hack his opponent's e-mails is a case in point. He never stopped to consider the implications of inviting a foreign power to meddle with our elections. And, as for being sarcastic, who could tell? It all sounds the same coming from him.

Petty, because he cannot overlook any slight, no matter how small. A wise candidate would have let Mr. Khan's remarks go with minimal response, perhaps a brief expression of sympathy and redirecting the question back to terrorism as he has since tried to do. Instead, everything with Trump is personal, and he responded to what he alone chose to characterize as a "vicious attack," not only with slurs against the Khans' religion, but more recently with the likely libelous claim that Mr. Khan is an agent of the Muslim Brotherhood. Like a schoolyard bully trying to rally his gang, Trump tried to get members of Congress to take his side. None have.

Now, he declares that he is "afraid the elections may be rigged," showing again that he is better suited to be a candidate for a third-world dictatorship than president. Afraid now that he will lose, is he already trying to rally his supporters to threaten violence, as he did with the party nomination?

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Thursday, July 21st, 2016
2:50 pm
What the Trump Plagiarism Issue Tells us About the Trump Campaign
It's not so much the fact that parts of Melania Trump's Republican Convention speech echoed (ironically) Michelle Obama's Democratic Convention speech of 2012, what's really revealing is the Trump campaign's response to the accusations of plagiarism.

The immediate responses were to deny that there was plagiarism, a response that Trump spokesmen kept repeating until the news broke that speechwriter Meredith McIver had admitted that it happened. This response was therefore proven to be a lie. Other counter-charges included that Hillary Clinton was somehow responsible, another obvious untruth, except, perhaps to those that believe Secretary Clinton is the root of all evil, including tooth decay. It was alleged that the plagiarism issue was, you should excuse the expression, "trumped up" by hostile media: only true if you believe that it's the duty of the press to ignore howlingly obvious stories.

And then there was the allegation that big, bad Hillary and Co. were picking on poor Melania, who wrote the speech all on her little own. This, of course, was also proven untrue, due to the admitted involvement of two professional speech writers.

In my opinion this is the kind of action we will expect routinely if there was to be a Trump presidency: any criticism will be replied to not with a measured response, not with checked facts, but with knee-jerk lying and bullying. It just makes the whole ugly picture even uglier.

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Wednesday, July 20th, 2016
7:44 pm
Madison Early Music Festival, Day 8

Saturday the 16th was the final day of the Madison Early Music Festival, and a day for two big concerts by the participants. That morning, we got breakfast at a restaurant called “Manna,” located in a small strip shopping center on Madison’s north east. Everything we had was excellent. My scrambled eggs were light, creamy textured, and very tasty. Georgie had the house specialty, oatmeal pancakes, which she pronounced delicious and filling. She also bought some samples of their other baked goods for later, which were very good also.

In the afternoon, we were treated to performances by the “Advanced Loud Band,” and the “Early Opera” workshop.

The phrase “Loud Band” refers to an ensemble containing wind instruments, specifically shawms (oboe/English horn ancestors); sackbuts (early trombones); and dulcians, which are a family of bassoon-like instruments.  “The London Waites,” as the group called itself, played an entertaining selection of music from Shakespearean England.

Early Opera Workshop, “The Fairy Queen,”

The Early Opera Workshop put on a condensed version of Henry Purcell’s masque, “The Fairy Queene.” This is always one of the more challenging sessions, since the participants, in addition to learning the music, have to stage the opera including blocking, and finding (referential) costuming, and minimal props. This was a very entertaining performance. All the singing was excellent, and dancing and acting enthusiastic and more than adequate.

We were keeping dining simple this weekend, and got dinner at Potbelly Deli on State Street. A very basic but pleasant hot sandwich shop that we again have found reliable. They use good ingredients and have a nice variety of drink options.

The evening’s Pre-concert lecture, was by Prof. Emeritus John Barker, and entitled “Elizabeth I as a Politician”. This was a very enlightening and entertaining talk, which brought out the fact that “Good Queen Bess” was not in fact popular with many of her subjects, and relied upon a variety of stratagems in order to keep her throne.


Saturday evening, was the All-Festival Concert, which was quite spectacular. The concert theme was “A Day in the Life of Shakespeare’s London,” and began with Holborne’s “The Night Watch,” and a choral piece by Orlando Gibbons called “The Cries of London,” which is based on the sales calls of the various merchants and mongers of the city in that time. This was quite a revelation, the piece was wonderfully complex, very modern in sound, and exciting to listen to.

The concert was very well put together, with some deep scholarship put into assembling the music and the readings, with some very obscure but appropriate readings chosen, such as a speech about the Queen at her prayers from Henry VIII, and Lorenzo wooing Jessica, from The Merchant of Venice.

Listening and watching this concert made me realize how amazingly much work had gotten done in eight days. Just putting together this concert, which consisted of twenty-four musical pieces and ten readings, in that time would have been a major work by itself. Then, when you consider that in addition, the Loud Band played twelve pieces in its concert, there were twenty-four numbers in The Fairy Queen, and twenty-nine pieces in the Participant’s concert, a huge amount of music was taught and learned. Out of all that, there were only three or four false starts, which I consider truly remarkable.

All praise to the Madison Early Music Festival staff, faculty, and participants. Well done, all around!

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7:43 pm
Madison Early Music Festival, Day 7, “Sonnets 400”

The Friday public program of the Madison Early Music Festival began with the “Participant Concert.”

The Festival is an intensive workshop for those interested in learning and performing early music, and the Participant Concert exhibits what has been learned in the week of the Festival, with more than twenty classes having prepared one or more pieces for the concert.

Memorable moments of the concert included the “Wake-up Bagpipes” playing Shepherd’s Hay, a Scottish air, and Ungaresca, a 16th century Italian tune.

“The Knot Untied,” a string group, played the “In Nomine,” by Pickforth, which was a unique piece of music. The lowest line, for violoncello, is played entirely in whole notes (four beats); the next higher (violas) are dotted half notes (three beats) and half notes (two beats); the violin lines are dotted quarter notes (beat and a half) and the “melody” line quarter notes. The overall effect was to be like the gearing of a clock, and the intricacies of its working were quite fascinating.

A trio of faculty members, Taya Konig-Tarasevich, Baroque flute; Charles Weaver, lute; Robert Eisenstein, bass viol, gave us two pieces, “Chaconne, Two in one upon a ground”, by Henry Purcell; and Sonata in G, by William Croft.

“Balanced, not Blended” presented some humorous rounds, again by Purcell. The audience particularly liked “T’is women makes us love/ T’is love that makes us sad/ T’is sadness makes us drink/ T’is drink that makes us mad!” (Each group chose its own name, some more creatively than others. This vocal group’s name reminds us that in music of this period, harmony was not common, but counterpoint was more common.)

Bard Notes presented songs referenced in Shakespeare. “Blacke Spirites and White,” was preceded by a reading of the famous witches “double, double, toil and trouble,” scene, complete with “cauldron,” a Weber barbecue grill overflowing with fumes of dry ice.

Gentle Ladies’ Ballad Society and Tea Club, gave us a gently bawdy song, “My Thing is My Own,” from the book “Wit and Mirth, or Pills to Purge Melancholy,” which was very funny, and ended the concert on a definite “up” note.

We drove out to our hotel to check in for the evening, and got dinner at Ella’s Deli on the way back. Ella’s is always reliable, although far from haute cuisine.  We’ve been going there on and off for more than thirty years and never had a bad thing. The Fairfield Inn, where we stayed last Saturday night as well, was clean, reasonably comfortable, and reasonably priced, especially compared with hotels downtown. Being out by the freeway past East Towne wasn’t terribly convenient, but not too bad.


The evening concert, “Sonnets 400,” was preceded by a lecture by Prof. Joshua Callahan, “Repackaging Shakespeare’s Sonnets,” which gave us an interesting piece of publishing history. The original 1609 edition of the Sonnets, published during Shakespeare’s lifetime, was a commercial flop and was quickly out of print.  However, in 1640, a London publisher, John Benson, “repackaged” the sonnets as part of a volume titled Shakespeare’s Poems. This combined most, but not all of the Sonnets along with others of the Bard’s poems, plus works by other authors blithely gathered in. Benson changed the order in which the sonnets appeared, removed the numbering, added titles, and grouped two or more into single units of verse.  Benson’s rough handling proved popular, however, and remained the definitive edition of the Sonnets until well into the 19th Century. Professor Callahan made the interesting argument that reuse of a resource, which he called “conservation,” can be as good for it in the long run as trying to maintain it in a pristine state (“preservation”).

The performance itself consisted of forty of the sonnets read by veteran actor Michael Herrold , with contemporary music between each set of three or four. The musical ensemble consisted of three members of the faculty, Grant Herreid, lute and cittern; Charles Weaver, lute and bandora; and Priscilla Herreid, recorder. They played dance music by Anthony Holborne, from Pavans, Galliards, Almains, and other short Aiers (1599), including such pieces as “Paridizio,” “Last Will and Testament,” “The Funerals,” and “The Fairie Round.”

Mr. Herrold read well, with good intonation, expression, and enunciation, but not overdramatizing. This was a very interesting and well-presented program which we enjoyed.

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Tuesday, July 19th, 2016
7:08 pm
Japanese Wood Block Prints, Chazen Art Museum
On Friday, July 15th, we drove back over to Madison for the seventh day of the Madison Early Music Festival. We made good time driving, and arrived early. With some time to spend, we spent it quite profitably viewing the exhibition of Japanese wood block prints currently on display.
Taking up two rooms of the museum’s first floor, the show included a great variety of styles of prints. Classical pieces such as examples from Thirty-six views of Mount Fuji, or Fifty-Three Stations on the Tokaido Road were represented, but there were many others we had not seen the like of before.

One of the very striking exhibits was a set of six prints by Hiroshi Yoshida, The Seto Inland Sea. Each one showed the same basic image of a moored ship in harbor, with the colors changed in each one, so as to depict pre-dawn, then morning, afternoon, evening, and night, with the sixth scene enshrouded in fog. Notes to the pieces confirmed our thoughts, that the artist had been influenced by Monet, with his studies of shifting light on haystacks or cathedrals.

Another, a tryptich, depicted an amazingly antic scene of a battle taking place on a rooftop. Two noble samurai are dueling, while a squad of feudal police and other samurai are trying to apprehend them with apparently small success. Titled, “Scene of the Battle on the Rooftop of Hoyukaku Pavilion,” by artist Tsukioka Yoshitoshi, it is an episode from a “semi-historical” novel called Nanso Satomi hakkenden (“The Tale of the Eight Loyal Dogs of the House of Satomi”).

There was also a fascinating series by Yoshitoshi, often referred to as the last great master of wood block printing, Handsome Heroes of the Suikoden. This series is based upon the 14th Century Chinese novel, The Water Margin. Each depicts one of the characters fighting a ghost, demon, or other eldritch creature. Published as a bound volume, each vividly colored image is roughly the size of a comic book or pulp magazine cover. Since each one incorporates a block of calligraphy, there is a strong impression of seeing the covers of a Japanese version of Weird Tales.

It was interesting also to see the evolution of wood block printing into the modern age. Always a commercial medium, 1931 saw a series, Modern Styles of Makeup, by Kobayakawa Kiyoshi, a fashion-plate sort of work that presumably appeared in the pages of a newspaper or women’s magazine.

It’s a very worthwhile exhibit. The show continues through August 14th.

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Wednesday, July 13th, 2016
6:18 pm
MEMF, Day Two, Newberry Ensemble
The second evening of the Festival had something rather unique for Early Music: a movie showing. David Douglass, co-director of The Newberry Consort, has assembled a “score” of Elizabethan music to be presented with a silent film, Les Amours de la reine Elisabeth, a 1912 feature film starring the famous French actress Sarah Bernhardt.

The showing was preceded by a talk by co-director Ellen Hargis, who spoke about the historical Elizabeth and Essex. Then, before the showing proper, Mr. Douglass gave a very entertaining introduction to the film, including its making, the cast, and its significant effect on the American film industry.

Before the film proper, Ms. Hargis was accompanied by the Consort in presenting vocal versions of the songs “What if a Day,” “If My Complaints Could Passions Move,” and “Can She Excuse My Wrongs,” which figured in the film score.

I can’t say that watching the film was easy: it has been digitized, but not restored or remastered: tops of heads are cut off in some scenes, and some are very washed out. For that, it was still interesting as showing examples of the demonstrative style of acting in use at the time, as presented by one of the premier acting troupes of the day. Of course, modern audiences find this humorous, but I found it very instructive to see.

The movie plot is very similar to the opera Roberto Devereaux, recently reviewed elsewhere in this journal, but with some changes that actually make the plot a bit more sensible. Elizabeth’s motivation for giving Essex the “get-out-of-jail-free” ring is shown as being due to a fortune-teller who utters the dire prophecies that Elizabeth (Ms. Bernhardt) shall die unhappy, and Devereaux (Lou Tellegen) die on the scaffold (i.e., be executed as a criminal). Besotted, the Queen gives him the ring which he is to send to her if ever he is in trouble.

Later, we see Essex romancing the Countess of Nottingham (Mlle. Romain), when they are discovered by her husband, the Earl (Max Maxudian). Rather than interrupting them, he decides to seek revenge by denouncing Essex as a traitor, with the help of Lord Bacon (Jean Chameroy).

Elizabeth at first refuses to credit the accusation until she, also, stumbles across the unlucky lovers. Believing that if Essex is false to her as a lover, he could be false to her as a liege man, she orders his arrest and execution.

Her anger cooling, she sends the Countess to the Tower to bring her the ring and justify her sparing Essex. However, the Earl of Nottingham intercepts her, seizes the ring, and throws it into the Thames. Grieving, Elizabeth allows the execution to proceed, accepting that Essex was too proud to appeal to her. But, when she later views Essex’ corpse, she sees that the ring is not on his hand. Having made the Countess tell her what really happened, Elizabeth takes to her bed, and soon dies. (Even I have to admit that Ms. Bernhardt’s “faceplant” into her featherbed as the dying Queen was funny--.)

Mr. Douglass did a marvelous job matching Shakespearean period music to the film action. Most of the pieces were new to me, and some I had heard of, but never heard played. One such was “Heartsease,” which is referred to in “Merry Wives of Windsor.” In the movie, the Queen and her court view a performance of “Merry Wives,” after which Essex presents Shakespeare to the Queen.
The Consort played the twenty-six pieces without discernible flaw, and in excellent synchrony with the music. Ms. Hargis sang again on Edward Johnson’s “Eliza is the Fairest Queen,” which was the “end title music.”
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Tuesday, July 12th, 2016
6:21 pm
Independence Day: Resurgence
On July 4th, we went to see “Independence Day: Resurgence.” Having read reviews saying it wasn’t as good as the original, largely because of the absence of Will Smith, we didn’t expect much, but found it better than expected. (While I like Will Smith well enough, I think he’s overrated. I had forgotten he was even in the first movie. The performances that stuck with me were Jeff Goldblum and Bill Pullman, both of whom are back for this entry.)

It is twenty years after the events of the first film. Humanity on earth is largely united by fear of the alien threat, and has supposedly* worked out a cooperative world government—or at least a unified world armed force. There has been no major war since 1996. (*I say supposedly, since the United States is still an autonomous country, as apparently is an African state ruled by warlord Deobia Oparei ( Dikembe Umbutu), which is the only country other than the USA that plays a major part in the events of the new movie.)

The reverse-engineered alien technology has given Earth an updated infrastructure, made the restoration of Washington D.C. and other cities possible, and lead to the deployment of a space defense force with a major base on the Moon. Of course, the twenty-year celebration of the alien’s defeat coincides with the aliens’ reappearance, as a bigger, badder threat.

This time, we get to find out what the aliens want, as, after destroying the Moon base (and part of the Moon), the Mother-of-All-Motherships settles over the Atlantic Ocean central rift, and begins boring toward Earth’s “molten core.” (Supposedly they want this for “fuel” and raw materials, which makes very little sense, but this movie doesn’t pretend to hard science. I admit I found the reference to “Cold Fusion” missile warheads amusing--.)

The battle for the planet is on, with expectable setbacks for the good guys initially. Ultimate victory requires both the young and valiant new warriors and the veterans of the last campaign to come together and employ their various talents to improvise a new plan. How it all works out is of course spectacular and, all in all, reasonably satisfying.

Spoileriffic Critiques:
The 3000 mile wide alien space craft is sufficiently massive to have its own significant gravity, as we are shown. Accepting that this film is a science-fantasy one remove from Star Wars, I suppose it was deemed that the disaster effects attendant on the ship’s landing were sufficient, and they didn’t really need to go into adding the tidal effects on the earth’s crust, or the perturbation of the planet’s rotation and possibly orbit by contract with such a massive object. After all, if the Earth is going to be destroyed in less than 24 hours, why worry about long-term effects? (And then there’s the little fact that a sizeable hunk of the Moon got sheared off by the incoming monstrosity--.)

On another front, apparently the laws on Presidential succession have been changed. When the entire National Command Authority gets wiped out by the aliens, General Adams (William Fichtner) is sworn in as President. Now, in the first place, in this situation, there’s no way both the President and the Vice-President would be at the same location, let alone the Speaker of the House, President Pro Tempore of the Senate and ALL the Cabinet Members. I can see not wanting to add another character to the already large cast, but the Secretary of Defense (Patrick St. Esprit) is already a speaking role, and he could easily have been the one Cabinet member to be at an “undisclosed location.”

And, frankly, Adams isn’t that good a general. Advised that a defense post in the orbit of Saturn has gone off line, he actually has to think about it before ordering red alert. Then, celebrating victory over the supposed alien probe, the Earth forces are taken flat footed when the real threat appears near the Moon. The alien heavy weapons adapted for Earth’s orbital defense have a power-up period similar to “Death Star” weapons, and the order to power up isn’t even given until the alien ship is already inside the Moon’s orbit, and the orbital defenses are in range of the aliens’ much larger weapon. Since the aliens are coming in hot, the defenses are destroyed before getting off a shot.

Tactically, the defense force aerial attack on the mothership was just embarrassing. Satellites are off-line or destroyed, OK, but no attempt at reconnaissance by aircraft was referred to. No electronic countermeasures were mentioned, nor were any of the bombers detailed to suppressing defenses, all tactics that evolved during the Vietnam War, and that are standard now. The low and slow formation flying used by the attack force would have been scorned by any World War II veteran of Schweinfurt or Ploesti, although the carnage inflicted by the defenses would have been all too familiar.

Where were the cruise missiles or combat drones? Plus, the mothership appeared to be totally defenseless from the underside, where an ocean salvage ship remained unmolested while reporting on the aliens’ actions. A submarine could have launched a full salvo into the ship’s underside with no apparent difficulty.

I understand that some of these things were affirmative decisions on the part of the writers to add tension and set the situation, but it’s depressingly sloppy and unoriginal. The same effects could have been achieved with tighter writing, some actual professional military advice, and some more creativity.

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