November 3rd, 2011

Fiddling While Rome Burns

From the New York Times, Nov.1: 'Citing a crisis of national identity and mass confusion among Americans about their nation’s motto, the House on Tuesday voted on a resolution “reaffirming ‘In God We Trust’ as the official motto of the United States.”'

There was absolutely no governmental purpose for this resolution. The motto was not due to expire, nor was there any move afoot to change it. The only purpose the introduction of this resolution has is try to make the people that oppose it (nine Representatives, eight Democrats and one Republican) look bad.

Interestingly, "In God We Trust" has only been the "official" motto since 1956, when it replaced "E Pluribus Unum" ("Out of Many, One") during the Red Scare of that decade.

I just happened to find a very timely piece on MoveOn.Org's Daily Share page, which came from "Mad As Hell Liberals’" Facebook page. , which relates:

'The original Constution of the United States that was ratified in 1789 had only one reference to religion: [Article 6] No religious test shall ever be required as a qualification to any office or public trust under the United States.

The de facto motto of the United States, adopted as part of the Great Seal of the U.S. by Congress in 1782 was "E Pluribus Unum" ("Out of Many, One"). Congress changed it 174 years later  (1956) to "In God We Trust."

The original "Pledge of Allegiance" was written in 1892 by Baptist minister Francis Bellamy, who did not include the words, "under God."  Those were added by Congress 62 years later (1954).

The U.S. didn't issue paper currency until 1861, and "In God We Trust" didn't appear on it for 96 years (1957).'

All these changes took place during the Red Scare of the 1950's, when it was deemed important to distinguish the good old USA from Russia and "godless Communism." Of course this made an additional stick with which to beat political foes, and Senator McCarthy and others since have done so readily.

Again quoting from the Times article: "

Representative Eric Cantor of Virginia, the House majority leader, said earlier this year that he would try to prevent votes on measures that were not “substantive and meaningful.” The House did not vote, for example, on an independent resolution, passed in the Senate this year, to honor the troops who carried out the mission that killed Osama bin Laden. His office did not respond to a request for comment on Tuesday."
That makes the purpose of this resolution pretty transparent: the Republican-controlled House won't consider a resolution that might reflect well on anything the Administration did. However, they will introduce one to gain political advantage for themselves. The nine Representatives who did what in my view was the right thing and voted against the resolution are of course being pilloried by conservative bloviators. The Republicans are much more interested in "ruling" than "governing". They want the power to command by fiat if possible, but seem to have no interest in doing anything useful with the power when they have it.

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And speaking of that Pledge of Allegiance--

For many years now, I've been quietly dropping "under God" out of the Pledge of Allegiance, especially since learning that it was a MCarthyist-era addition. Since then, I've come to doubt more of it.

It is, after all, the "pledge of allegiance to the Flag of the United States of America." Now, I am a loyal American, but I am not an idolator, and it does not seem right that I should pledge allegiance to a thing.

I understand that the "flag" is intended as a metaphor for the nation at large, and I understand people's reverence for it. Although I would not "desecrate" the US flag, it is still not a holy object. At bottom, a flag is nothing more than a piece of more-or-less gaudy cloth, and it is not worth a single human life.

I believe that, if you called up the ghost of any soldier, sailor, marine or aircrew and asked them, "Did you die for the flag?" they would answer, "I died for my country," or "For freedom," or "For the folks back home," or, "For my buddies," but that the flag would be way down the list.

Talking with other people of like mind, I have heard it called into question whether "one nation, indivisible," or "with liberty and justice for all," are in fact true and can be said with sincerity. As to those, I choose to think they are aspirational, ideals we pledge to strive toward.

So, here's my pledge:

"I pledge allegiance to the United States of America; one nation, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all."

What's wrong with that?

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Milwaukee Ballet: "Dracula"--revived

We began our Halloween holiday on Friday, October 28th, by attending the Milwaukee Ballet's performance of Michael Pink's "Dracula". This was a revival of the 2005 production (reviewed herein in my entry of Oct. 26th, 2005). Again, we enjoyed the ballet very much, although our observations were somewhat different from the first time around.

The Friday night cast featured Joshua Reynolds as Dracula, Petr Zahradnicek as Harker, Nicole Teague as Lucy, Susan Gartell as Mina, Ryan Martin as Van Helsing, Denis Malinkine as Renfield, And David Hovhannisyan as Quincy.

There seemed to have been some adjustments to the score (composer Philip Feeney was in the audience Friday night), as some effects, like the erratic knocking sounds in Harker's nightmare sequence, were more obtrusive, and there were parts, such as offstage choral voices, that I hadn't recalled from before. I thought these were generally positive developments although some of the special effects were a bit on the loud side.

Choreography in the villager's dance in act one was significantly changed, making them less sinister and more desperate seeming. Their mourning at the death of the baby and exulting at the death of the wolf, and almost palpable fear at the entrance of "Dracula's coachman" made them more human. Georgie says that Dracula's attack on Harker is one of the best male-male pas de deux in ballet, and I, and other critics, are inclined to agree.

The "tea dance" sequence in the second act is still too long: once it's been established that Lucy is the belle of the ball and has several men on her string, what's the point of the rest of the section? Admittedly, Pink did liven things up with some of the stage business he's so good at: a diva signing autographs, a waitress sneaking a glass of champagne; but it still seemed a long wait for the storm to break and Dracula to enter. Once that happens, the sequence where Dracula stalks unseen among the hotel guests, cuts Mina out of the crowd, and preys on her, was wonderfully creepy, helped by the lighting where he is continually in shadow, and the light is only on Mina.

There are other wonderful moments in the concluding sections: Lucy rising from the dead and attacking included a bit where Teague, one of the smallest of the principal dancers, leaps almost onto the shoulders of one of the tall men and seems to bear him to the ground. Dracula's cult of vampires' decadent dance celebrating their master's approach can be seen to be a parody of the genteel party dance of the second act. Dracula's defeat and dissolution is simply but elegantly done, a perfect bit of stage magic.

The dancing was flawless, and all the principals and company very fine. It must be admitted that Joshua Reynolds does not have quite the presence and "edge" of David Hovhannisyan, who was one of the dancers that created the role in 2005, and danced it in the Thursday and Saturday performances, but Hovhannisyan is a more experienced dancer and Reynolds may well match him in time.

As a side note, although it's not unusual to see a lot of girls and young women, many of them dance students, at a ballet performance, this evening it seemed that there were many more than usual, quite a few seeming to have come as a group, and who were very vocal in cheering the cast at the curtain call. Perhaps "Twilight" is having a positive effect on ballet attendance? Anyhow, this night, we got to see a REAL vampire--.

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Milwapa collation and Halloween party

Halloween festivities continued on Saturday the 29th, with the monthly Milwapa collation held at our house. Physical turnout was small, due to Icon that weekend, colds, and printer failures, but we were pleased to have long-time Illinois fans Dick Smith and Leah Zeldes Smith appear. It happens that Dick's grandfather owns a home in Wauwatosa that Dick and Leah will be living in and working on for a while, dividing time between here and Illinois.

Saturday evening was the annual Lytheria Halloween party. I had been enviously eying the expensive "Professor Snape" costumes in the Museum Replicas catalog, when it occurred to me that I actually HAD parts that could be made to do Snape. I had a black wig, originally purchased to do "Guy Fawkes"--many years ago, pre-"V", although I used it for that costume also--. Black academic robe, check. Black nehru jacket, purchased to do "PsiCorps". White regency shirt, gives that long cuffs effect we see on Snape. Black trousers and elastic-sided boots, check. I also have my very own wand in a fancy serpentine grained wood that I bought from "Ironmonger Jim" yea many years ago, long before Harry Potter was even a gleam in Rowling's eye, and good to go. People at the party thought the "transformation was remarkable," and I thought the effect pretty good, although I probably ought not to have washed the wig--.

Georgie did not have a particular character in mind, so just went as her fabulous self in fancy dress, pulling out a lovely green and silver (Slytherin!) gown that hadn't been out of the closet in a while. She looked great, as you may judge from the picture below.

Professor Snape and friend at Lytheria Halloween, 2011.

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Lytheria Trick or Treat 2011

Following the success of the recent Robert Downey "Sherlock Holmes" film (sequel forthcoming next month)it was decided that "Baker Street" would be the theme for this year's "Trick or Treat" production.

Lee Schneider did his usual awe-inspiring job building and decorating the set, which represented Holmes and Watson's sitting room at 221B, with fireplace, bookshelves, and a really nifty chemical bench (kudos to Lytheria resident Dave Martin, who researched period chemical labels) to which I contributed my brass microscope.

Lee asked Dr. Chuck Tritt to play Sherlock, and Bob Seidl to do Watson. Me, he asked to reprise my theatrical role of Professor Moriarty, and Georgie to do Irene Adler. We also had Inspectors Lestrade and Gregson, Thaddeus Sholto (The Sign of the Four), Violet Hunter (Adventure of the Copper Beeches, two Mrs. Hudsons (who worked in shifts answering Holmes' door), and assorted thugs,
street urchins, and Londoners.

The main routine was that Mrs. Hudson would admit a group of trick-or-treaters, Holmes, Watson and I would introduce ourselves, and if we had time would interview them about what brought them there, and whether they were interested in joining the Baker Street Irregulars or Moriarty's gang (a short, exciting life of crime, as I put it). most voted to go with Holmes, but either way, everyone got a candy bar, a tour of the lab bench given by one of the other players (Lestrad, Adler and Sholto all got in on that act) and the chance to find their way out via the secret door in Holmes' coat closet (a non-canonical addition of ours--).

We had a good time, and the trick-or-treaters seemed to as well.

Baker Street Cast: Top row: Jack the Ripper, Moriarty Gang Thug
Second Row: Navvy, Violet Hunter, Victorian Woman 1, Inspector Gregson, Baker Street Irregular, Victorian Lady 2.
Third Row: Thaddeus Sholto, Victorian Lady 3, Mrs. Hudson 1, Cook.
Fourth Row: Dr. Watson, Irene Adler (largely hidden, I'll post a better picture when I can get one-), Mrs. Hudson 2.
Fifth Row: Sherlock Holmes, Professor Moriarty, Inspector Lestrad, Victorian Young Lady.
Front: Victorian Girl

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