Thursday, October 17, 2002

Pictures from "The Secret Garden"

The magic moment when the portrait of Lily comes alive! Pheonix Vaughn (Lily Craven) and Kyle Cherry (Colin Craven):

Mary Lennox starts her temper tantrum. Jason Stevens (Dr. Neville Craven), Julie Kulmann (Head Mistress), Erin Carpenter (Mary Lennox)

Colin Craven starts to walk!

"The Secret Garden" Closes at Varsity Theater in Davis/ Elly Awards

Here's an update on musical theater goings-on in Sacramento. It's been a busy couple of months.

The folks at Davis Musical Theater Company (DMTC) closed "The Secret Garden" on Sunday, Sept. 29. I was the Stage Manager for the show, the first time I've ever done such a thing. Stage Manager is much different than being an actor. An actor is trying to make just as big an impression as they can on the audience, but the Stage Manager instead tries to become utterly invisible. Only when you've reached the absolute nadir of obscurity, when no one knows you are there, and when the show clicks along like a well-oiled machine, have you succeeded at being Stage Manager. In general, it's hard stage-managing at the Varsity Theater in Davis, because the wings are so shallow, and furniture and set pieces must be moved immediately if they are no longer of use. "The Secret Garden" was a relatively easy show to manage - a good starter show - but still, I was totally paranoid every second that the thing would spin apart.

In other news, the 20th annual Elly Awards were held at the Crest Theater in Sacramento, also on Sunday evening, Sept. 29. It's always a fun get-together, seeing all the other theater folks in one place - usually they are so busy, they often lose contact with one another. As always, the nominations were inscrutable game of roulette - excellent shows like DMTC's "Sweeney Todd" were largely overlooked, whereas other shows, maybe less-deserving, won favor. For some reason, two of the local area's three different versions of "Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat" this season were nominated (one done by DMTC, the other by Natomas Charter School). I don't know why "Joseph..." won such favor, except that it is youthful energetic fun, and just about everybody likes it (even if Andrew Lloyd Webber's music is often derivative and pitched at the lowest common denominator).

This year, as last year, Solano Community College near Fairfield swept the awards with "Jekyll and Hyde". As one knowledgeable observer said: "It's hard for local community theater groups to compete against an institution with a budget ten times as large, where Equity (i.e., professional) actors can take big roles, where the San Francisco Symphony is sometimes utilized to play taped music, and where numerous skilled students are assigned to build sets" (do I hear sour grapes?). One of DMTC's young performers (Jocelyn Price) won for young performer's theater best supporting actor (child, female) for 'Anne of Green Gables', and Lori Jones from DMTC won best choreographer for "Joseph...", which was great, but I wish the DMTC trophy total had been greater. Towards the end of the evening, those of us still remaining in town from the cast of "Joseph..." (which closed 5 months ago) danced the 'Go, Go, Go, Joseph!' dance number on the Crest Theater's big, dark stage.

As we waited to go on-stage for 'Go, Go, Go, Joseph!', the head of Woodland Opera House (WOH) came up to me and started conversing in a somewhat arch and skeptical way. "So, it's an interesting time to be on the Board of DMTC! (I'm now treasurer) You'll have to raise a lot of money to build your new theater, and Davis has been sucked dry!" (the $61 million Mondavi Theater just opened at UC Davis, and he was referring to the ensuing poverty of the local deep-pocketed contributors). I assured him we had the services of a good volunteer fundraiser, and we were drawing from a different pool of people (besides, our new theater wouldn't be nearly so costly - maybe $1 million at most). The WOH director then stated that after all this time, DMTC deserved a new theater, but I'm sure he's worried about whether DMTC will gain an edge and pull away his audience too. Life in the theater trenches - opportunity in crisis and crisis in opportunity!

There But For The Grace Of God Go I!

An interesting, ominous article about the dangers of spending too many hours at a keyboard. It's a real mystery, that's for sure. It makes you wonder if something weird happens to the brain, some neural pathways taken far beyond exhaustion. You would think you would have an epileptic fit, or something, then sleep it off, but who knows?

I've never spent as much as 10 hours at video games, although I've binged as much as 15 - 18 hours in casinos, and the effect is probably similar (probably unlike the Korean man, I had some breaks). Weird and unhinged I became. Weird and unhinged I was before I went in, I suppose. I read somewhere (Science, I think) that scientists who monitor brain activity with positron emission tomography can't distinguished gambling and cocaine from one another. I bet video games fall in there too.

I remember playing with a very crude (even by the standard of the time) Pac-Man game on my black-and-white television, around 1982 or so. The Pac-Man and the Monsters jumped around in jerky motions. Even though I played for only an hour or so, when I turned away to rest, and started to read a book, all the characters on the page started jerking around like crazed cockroaches. Freaked me out for sure!

War with Iraq

The main trouble with determining the proper course of action is our considerable ignorance concerning Iraq's capabilities. I'm greatly troubled by the Bush administration's enthusiasm for war with Iraq - there is plenty of principled ground from which to object to Bush's push to war. On 9/23, on C-SPAN, I saw most of Gore's speech to the Commonwealth Club, plus the follow-up program, testimony to the House of Representatives regarding the status of Iraq's nuclear program. I agreed with about 90% of what Gore had to say, which is summarized (by below:

Gore blasted Bush for failing to stabilize Afghanistan, nine months after routing the Taliban from power. He accused Bush and the Republicans of cynically using Iraq as a political issue in the weeks leading up to November's midterm elections. He charged that Bush's stated policy of unilateral action is turning even allies against the United States. And he warned that the new doctrine announced last week by the administration, asserting the right of the United States to take unilateral, preemptive action against any country perceived as a threat, would set a precedent encouraging other countries to take preemptive action, creating a global "reign of fear."

My objections to Gore's speech are on the following points:
1.) Given the sorry history of outside involvement in Afghanistan's politics, it may be wise not to try to stabilize Afghanistan by ourselves. We provide Karzai's bodyguards, and assistance to the central regime. If Karzai gets enough help from us, he can work out a modus vivendi with the rest of the warlords. We don't need to 'nation-build' in Afghanistan, but we do have to prevent it from becoming a terror base ever again. And, please, the U.S. has not abandoned Afghanistan! Our guys are still there!

2.) As Niccolo Machiavelli would no doubt urge, it's an excellent idea for the U.S. to create a "reign of fear" in the Middle East. Al Qaeda was able to get such lavish funding from many Saudis precisely because the Saudis were not fearful enough of the U.S. - they figured their oil contacts made them immune to our anger. And they have been right in their calculation - for now. By spoiling the convivial atmosphere between nations, however, the U.S. reminds everyone that it is not a helpless giant, and that severe consequences may follow from irresponsible actions.

3.) Gore elevated the "rule of law" to lofty heights, ignoring the hard reality that nations are sovereign entities and are not bound by law, but by traditions. At the international level, only might, and traditions influencing the use of might, are respected. Law by itself is a weak reed.

I think Gore is sincere in his concerns - I don't think his main concern was political opportunism - but as a lawyer, he is saddled by too much respect for the ways of law. Had he been President, he would have been an easy mark on the international scene. The Republicans will eviscerate him, as they should. Democrats need to do the same.

I was impressed by the testimony of Dr. Hamza on C-SPAN regarding his experiences as an engineer in the Iraqi nuclear program. Based on what he said, and the amount of time that has elapsed since Iraq started on its efforts to get nuclear weapons, it seems to me quite likely Saddam and the Baath party of Iraq already have an undetermined number of nuclear weapons. It seems to me odd that we are then making such a show of going to war, because that just gives Iraq time to prepare a nuclear attack. The U.S. government then is either trying to get Iraq to move its forces around, and then reveal their locations, or the U.S. government thinks they haven't yet put bombs together. Pretty risky stuff, especially if the U.S. government is wrong! I don't think Iraq is going to give nuclear weapons to a terrorist group like Al Qaeda, because the weapons could be turned on his own regime, or lost, or compromised, or used in a way that a control-freak like Saddam would disapprove of.

Dr. Hamza also pointed out that much of the Iraqi nuclear infrastructure is of German design. I find it odd then that Bush doesn't use that information to slam the Germans and prevent Gerhard Schroeder from taking the moral high ground, as he did in his recent re-election campaign. Perhaps Bush is a political klutz (no particular surprise there), or maybe U.S. industries too are similiarly compromised. Still, it's a mystery....

Dr. Hamza also points out that removing Saddam is not enough. The will to go nuclear comes from the entire Baath party, and that huge edifice would have to be removed in post-invasion Iraq if we are to sleep well at night.

In my mind, it's likely that Iraq will go nuclear against U.S. troops participating in an invasion, and maybe against Israel too. In turn, we'll go nuclear too. In some sense, the current debate may already be too late.

Nevertheless, the whole debate is hobbled by lack of information. Does Iraq have nuclear weapons? The lack of a hard answer causes no end of trouble.

To me, an invasion is justified only in the event that Iraq has nuclear weapons (not the much-less-dangerous chemical and biological weapons), or is about to get them, and will use them shortly. And we have to be clever about how we do it, or..., well..., there is Pandora's Box! Everything about the way Bush is going about this business, however, from the slimeball election timing, to the efforts to evade the need for Congressional approval, to the contempt shown for the (often-contemptible) Europeans, to the failure to better-prosecute the War on Al Qaeda, demonstrates that he's in way, way beyond his skill level.

Wednesday, October 16, 2002

First Entry

This is my first entry to the 'Marc Valdez Weblog', which will feature an eclectic array of subjects of interest. Topics likely to be covered in this Weblog are:

1.) Political Opinions - generally liberal, generally just left-of-center, but not always;
2.) Local musical theater and dance - Sacramento, CA and area;
3.) Sciences - especially those relating to atmospheric sciences;
4.) Southwest USA history & natural history - NM, AZ, CA, UT, NV, even CO & TX;
5.) Eccentric humor.