Saturday, June 03, 2006

Backing Down Under Pressure

Strange things are afoot with the Board of Reclamation. First, there is the matter of the River Islands Project in the Delta, which has become oddly-controversial, not for the merits or demerits of the project per se, but for manner in which the meetings are conducted and how the Board is constituted. Senator Dean Florez recently proposed a bill in the State Senate which is unusually specific regarding the qualifications of future members of the Board. Why be so specific, unless members-in-waiting have already been selected?

At the most recent meeting of the Board in Merced, Board Member Burroughs surrendered a principled defense of homeowners in the Plumas Lake Basin, in response to some kind of peer pressure, and in exchange for promises and flattery (pp. 197-198) . It's hard to puzzle out exactly what's happening, but I suspect you don't have to go to the State of Denmark to find something rotten.
BOARD MEMBER BURROUGHS: Thank you. That's currently what I have that's on the table right now.

Prior to what's on the table and we're going passed now is philosophically I believe that planners, developers, the community, our entire society has to have common sense about where to build homes. And building homes in a floodplain, to me, does not make good common sense.

It's great that we do have some of these agricultural levees that are in place and we've been able to hold our breath as they've stayed in place. But they're not long term. They're not lasting. And I guess what we're seeing here is I'm just not into a crapshoot of building homes first without protection and building more homes and having people at risk while we, so to speak, set bonds or taxes or assessments and have these people have to pay for it.

And that's my problem, is that I just don't believe that homes belong on floodplains and there's smarter places to put homes. And I apologize for that.

And at the same time, I feel like that's the voice I'm here on the Board for is to -- is to be for the everyday person. And sometimes -- but I have heard if people there in this area -- and I haven't heard from everyone. When I got on the Board I got a couple of calls, concerned citizens that just said, "Just want to let you know that when I bought this home I didn't know anything about it. There was a fine print behind the closing statements." And last week I asked, "Well, you know, you've said that there's this problem. Why aren't you going to the meetings?" And they said, "Well, most people didn't get a specific notice that there was a specific hearing in regards to this issue."

So I would -- I think I would implore you to give the best notice you can in the appropriate hands. And that would be -- I think that's the right thing to do anyway. Not for me asking you, but it's the right thing to do.

MR. SHAPIRO: Well, we believe we do and we will redouble our efforts. And for what it's worth, I think you have been a clear voice in this and I think your "no" vote last month in the policy issue represented a very clear voice on this. And I believe people heard that voice. We would ask for your vote "yea" today on the agreement to implement the action the Board has already said in the direction it desires to go, understanding that if there's anything we can put into this agreement to address some of your concerns, we remain willing to do so.

BOARD MEMBER BURROUGHS: With that, I'm vote yes.
Not Quite An Exhibit

Don't they call this a spa?
An exhibition that opens in Las Vegas later this month will feature 22 corpses. The bodies are preserved with liquid plastic in a variety of life-like poses.
My First 'Dear Abby' Letter

In reply to this:

DEAR ABBY: I'm a 43-year-old divorced mother with three kids, ages 17, 13 and 9. I have been dating a wonderful man I'll call Earl for more than a year. Everything is great; we plan to be married. My kids love him, he is great with them, and he has two teenagers of his own.

I recently suggested that my kids start calling him "Earl" instead of "Mr. Earl," as they have called him since they met him. But Earl said that even after we are married, they should continue to call him "Mr." because it is a matter of respect. I say that no stepfamilies do that, and if we are all sharing a home together, it's too formal. Your thoughts, please? -- IN A QUANDARY IN GEORGIA

DEAR IN A QUANDARY: I agree with you. Once you are married and living under the same roof, his insistence that he be addressed as "Mr." will be emotionally distancing for your children. It will also make them feel like second-class citizens if his own children call him "Dad" while yours are compelled to call him "Mister." Your boyfriend appears to have some significant self-esteem issues. I strongly recommend that they be dealt with before you marry him.
I wrote this:
Dear Abby:

Disagreed with your reply to 'Quandry,' regarding the future stepdad who wants to be called 'Mister Earl' by her kids. In a leveling society like ours, honorifics are sometimes used for word play. In high school, only my closest friends called me 'Mister.' 19th Century San Franciscans called the town eccentric 'The Emperor of the U.S. and The Protector of Mexico.' Did they have self-esteem issues? Are you crazy? 'Mister Earl' wants to retain his status as Not-Just-Some-Random-Guy-Named-Earl. What's wrong with that? Tell 'Quandry' to lighten up.

I still need to check out Kelly Daniells in Las Vegas.
Support RSP!

Today is the big Sierra Curtis Neighborhood Association flea market (24th Street & Castro). Go down, and make sure no one at RSP has to schlep anything back to the Rehearsal Space.
Outer Limits

Strange - the Las Vegas Strip is technically not in the City of Las Vegas, but rather, in the Township of Paradise. In fact, Bugsy Siegel built his casino where he did because of that technicality, and that's why the Strip is located where it is.

Friday, June 02, 2006

Wen Ho Lee Wins His Suit

The good guy wins, for once, but not after much damaged occurred. Still, the reporters and the government mulishly maintain their innocence, in what amounted to a lynching:
Wen Ho Lee, the former nuclear weapons scientist once suspected of being a spy, settled his privacy lawsuit Friday and will receive $1.6 million from the government and five news organizations in a case that turned into a fight over reporters' confidential sources.

Lee will receive $895,000 from the government for legal fees and associated taxes in the 6 1/2-year-old lawsuit in which he accused the Energy and Justice departments of violating his privacy rights by leaking information that he was under investigation as a spy for China.

The Associated Press and four other news organizations have agreed to pay Lee $750,000 as part of the settlement, which ends contempt of court proceedings against five reporters who refused to disclose the sources of their stories about the espionage investigation.

Lee said of the settlement: "We are hopeful that the agreements reached today will send the strong message that government officials and journalists must and should act responsibly in discharging their duties and be sensitive to the privacy interests afforded to every citizen of this country."

The payment by AP, The New York Times, the Los Angeles Times, The Washington Post and ABC is the only one of its kind in recent memory, and perhaps ever, legal and media experts said.

The companies said they agreed to the sum to forestall jail sentences for their reporters, even larger payments in the form of fines and the prospect of revealing confidential sources.

"We were reluctant to contribute anything to this settlement, but we sought relief in the courts and found none," the companies said. "Given the rulings of the federal courts in Washington and the absence of a federal shield law, we decided this was the best course to protect our sources and to protect our journalists."

The statement noted that the accuracy of the reporting itself was not challenged.

The government agencies did not admit that they had violated Lee's privacy rights.

Betsy Miller, one of Lee's lawyers, said the payments show "that both the government and the journalists knew that they had significant exposure had this case gone to trial."

Lee was fired from his job at the Los Alamos National Laboratory in New Mexico, but he was never charged with espionage. He was held in solitary confinement for nine months, then released in 2000 after pleading guilty to mishandling computer files. A judge apologized for Lee's treatment.

Two federal judges held the reporters in contempt for refusing to reveal their sources to Lee. The journalists had argued that he could obtain the information elsewhere.
Cockroaches As Jewelry

Saw this in "Science" magazine - found it a bit hard to accept.

I remember hot summer nights in Tucson in the 1980's. Hard to sleep, but not because of the heat. Less-civilized cockroaches than the ones pictured here, of the sort that I believe are called German cockroaches (and which run rampant through urban areas of Arizona), would skitter across my bare flesh in the dark. I would awake, grab them off my belly, and fling them through the dark, hearing the sharp crack of the chelatinous impact against the wall. Never occurred to me to put them on my hand, though. Just another illustration that I suffer from a lack of imagination:

Giant Madagascar Hissing Cockroach Brooch ($80.00) - A little information on our little friends. These insects come in varied patterns and are decorated with the finest Austrian Swarovski crystal. Each roach takes about an hour of painstaking work to achieve his final magical glory. All roaches are male to ensure sterility, and come complete with a leash set. This consists of a gorgeous pin you attach to your clothing with a chain that clasps to the cockraoch's carapace to keep him from running amok. The lifespan of these animals is approximately one year if housed and fed properly. This is not a guarantee, it is an estimate. Roaches love fresh bananas and must have access to fresh water at all times, a very damp paper towel or cotton ball will do the trick. Dehydration is the main cause of death. Keep him in a little terrarium in the dark and he will love you and be very responsive to your touch. Roaches are shipped overnight in a box and can be kept in this box for up to 4 days without food or water while you secure him more hospitable accommodations.
2006 Hurricane Season Starts

According to Central Florida Hurricane Center Blog:
The names for this year are: Alberto, Beryl, Chris, Debby, Ernesto, Florence, Gordon, Helene, Isaac, Joyce, Kirk, Leslie, Michael, Nadine, Oscar, Patty, Rafael, Sandy, Tony, Valerie, William.
June looks like a real yawner of a month right now - some activity in the Pacific south of Acapulco, but the Atlantic is quite placid, from Africa to the Windward Islands.

May it always be so.
Hold That Arid Western Soil!

There's all sorts of biological activity going on in even the most arid soil, and killing those microrganisms, say, by running offroad vehicles over them, can lead to the generation of beaucoup dust. The people in Moab, Utah are learning this the hard way:
Taking care not to disturb the soil, Belnap scrambles up the rocks and picks up a sample.

"So here's a nicely developed soil crust. All those different colors are different lichens," Belnap says. "We have mosses in here as well, we have cyanobacteria in here as well, and this is absolutely stable from both wind and water erosion."

The cyanobacteria themselves are microscopic, but they create strong threads. Belnap holds up a clump of dirt. Another clump dangles from a tiny thread. These threads do an amazing job of holding the soil together, she says.

The cyanobacteria grow quickly, but the mosses and lichens do not. Belnap says it has taken hundreds of years for them to grow here. And in the Mojave Desert, it took more like a thousand years.

That has huge implications for what Belnap really cares about: restoring the biological crust on these disturbed lands. She wants to stop the blowing dust.
Twilight of the Mammoths

Jerry writes:
Interesting new book: "Twilight of the Mammoths", by Paul Martin.

The most compelling argument for the "overkill" hypothesis is that megafauna like the mammoth seemed to have survived all of the deglaciations of the Pleistocene EXCEPT the last one, which just happens to be the only deglaciation in which homo sapiens existed. (The "Pleistocene Park" idea is really loony, however!)
For myself, I don't think "Pleistocene Park" is such a loony idea. Indeed, I remember that there are places in Texas, for example, where rhinoceroses are kept on big ranches, low-key, in order to provide protection against Asian horn hunters. And there are open spaces where it can be done!

Let's do it!
Note From Juan Ramos

Information today from Juan:
They cancelled yesterday's surgery for today which involved skin grafts to his right lower leg and left lower arm. I don't know the time of today's scheduled surgery. John's mother Barbara and I took the night off to clean things up at home and get some much needed rest. Noemi Rios, the Stage Manager for "Take Me Out" did however visit John last night and called me at home afterward to inform me that she and had a conversation of sorts with John. She would ask him questions and would slowly shake his head to indicate yes or no. He even rolled his eyes when she asked him a question that involved a "duh" answer. So that was good to hear even though his medication for pain may not allow him to remember that encounter today. That being said, I would not encourage visitors today as he has some non-surgical procedures scheduled for today before his surgery and will be having a pretty busy day according to his nurses.

Thursday, June 01, 2006

John Hancock Update

I just paid a brief visit to John over at UCD Med Center. There was something of a shift change amongst visitors at 5:30 p.m.: his mom (and friend) were leaving, and theater folk (Brad, Maria, Andee) were arriving.

The surgery that was scheduled for today (on an add-on basis, with an emphasis on skin grafts) didn't occur. Presumably that surgery will proceed tomorrow. Sedation continues, in part, in order to avoid the agitation that accompanies rousing.

The balancing act continues with his treatment. It is important to mitigate the disruptive effects of a quick succession of surgeries. For example, because of the surgeries, he hasn't been able to take advisable blood-thinning agents, and so is now at risk of blood-clotting. Soon, they intend to place a filter in a blood vessel leading to his head, in order to catch possible blood clots.

In general, John is slowly improving.
Frog Myth Debunked

Apparently frogs will not sit still as their water temperature slowly increases to a boil.
We placed Frog A into a pot of cold water and applied moderate heat. At 4.20 seconds, it safely exited the pot with a leap of 24 centimeters. We then placed Frog B into a pot of lukewarm water and applied moderate heat. At 1.57 seconds, it safely exited the pot with a leap of 57 centimeters.

How did our expert interpret this triumph of science? "There are certain cases where gradual change is almost preferred," Hofman commented. "The change myth assumes a very narrow view of people. If frogs can do it, people definitely can."
Map Of Gasoline Prices

Jerry writes and says:
Check out this map of gas prices.
Wow! We must feel real special here on the West Coast!

Part of this is the inefficient way that they've been dealing with cleaner fuels in California and the refusal of the oil giants to upgrade their West Coast refineries in the face of NIMBY resistance. Politics is king, and higher prices here reflect political decisions as much as they reflect the natural distribution of fossil fuels.
Orgy of Myths

Apparently Roman orgies were fairly tedious affairs:
Dr Blanshard, who lectured on the search for orgies at Sydney's Nicholson Museum this week, said people tended to project their fantasies on to ancient civilisations "and the Romans would be surprised by our ideas of how they spent their Saturday nights".

... Dr Blanshard, a Queenslander with a PhD from Cambridge University, found "a couple of references" late in the third century "that look like orgies but nobody seems particularly interested in repeating the experience".

The orgy myth persists because "moralists have painted Rome as an empire that fell as a consequence of its loose morals".

While Romans had "widespread display of genitals", they were not intensely sexual.

He showed a vase depicting multiple partners in multiple sexual positions, but the women are bruised or portrayed as old and fat, with lined faces.

"Are they really saying, 'Go try this at home'?" he said. More likely, the image on the vase "may well suggest an orgy but warn: don't expect it to be pretty".

Dr Blanshard said liberals also used the Roman orgy myth to validate their practices. "Oscar Wilde, for example, gave classical gloss to his encounters with boys," he said. "He thought, 'I'm doing what Socrates did'."
Dancing Experiment Fundraiser On Hold At DMTC

Ack! The latest from DMTC.

Consistency is the hobgoblin of small minds, but consistency also means soothing predictability. Apparently there is a scheduling issue for "Dancing Through The Decades":
Due to scheduling issues, Davis Musical Theatre Company's "Dancing Through the Decades 1950's" at the Hoblit Performing Arts Center (607 Peña Drive, Davis), on Saturday June 3, 2006 at 7:00 pm has been cancelled...we will let you know when the next Dancing Through the Decades will be...thank you.

Wednesday, May 31, 2006

Madonna - The Show

(SFGate caption) Madonna performs "Like a Virgin" Tuesday at the HP Pavilion, the first of two sold-out shows. Chronicle photo by Liz Mangelsdorf

My photos didn't turn out so well, but there is a fansite,, where photos from the May 30th San Jose concert were recently uploaded by "Pera". The rest of the photos in this particular post come from that site.

As we waited for the show, roars would periodically emanate from the other side of the arena. Apparently, people over there caught sight of Madonna, but we didn't see anything on our side. We watched the technical personnel raise and lower meter-diameter metal spheres over the stage. At one point, there was a short-circuit, and a shower of sparks. Bad! But for some reason, sparks didn't happen during the show, when the metal spheres were lowered.

Having read a review of the LA show, I knew Madonna and her entourage would emerge from a giant silver ball after it descended from its place amongst the ceiling rafters to the end of of the central-arena catwalk. Even though I knew she had to get into the ball somehow, with the sleight-of-hand that all the light and sound provided, I was distracted and never saw her enter the ball. Once on the floor, the giant silver ball unfolded in a magical, mystical way that was fun to watch.

Great show! Just the most AMAZING street dancers who ever lived! Here is the Sacramento Bee review: here is the SFGate review. There is an even better review of the show at

One dancer came to the stage right platform and spun on his head. Very hard to do, even for experienced break dancers. But he did it for thirty seconds without touching the floor, an eon in dance time, then brought in his arms and legs towards his body's core and spun up, like a figure skater, before springing out of it. Not just amazing - superhuman! And the other dancers - they leaped eight, ten, twelve feet from platforms and jungle gyms onto the (springloaded) catwalk for the number 'Jump'.

Street dancing is partly martial arts, partly hip hop, part break dancing, partly fearless aggressiveness. The dancers oozed testosterone. Even the women oozed testosterone, even the willowy woman in green with the amazingly-flexible back. At one point, there was a staged fight, and Madonna was mixing it up as well. Lying on the floor in splits, Madonna fended off an aggressive move by one of her dancers by putting her foot behind her head and pushing her crotch forward aggressively. The guy backed off! Pretty funny - I should do that next time I'm in a fight!

Madonna also did her 'Like A Virgin' saddle ride on the stage right platform, very close to where I was. Wished I had gotten a photo as good as the SFGate picture! So close, and yet, somehow so far!

Because we were sitting on the side, the 'Live To Tell' cross hanging didn't have the emotional impact it could have had by viewing from the front. Afterwards, she lay down in front of the cross, removed her crown of thorns, and was "resurrected" by the placement of a robe across her back (according to Georgette, this was a scaled-down version of what James Brown does in his raucous, gospel-oriented concerts, with repeated episodes of shaking and multiple robes being placed).

Madonna tends to be heavy-handed and didactic, but from where I was sitting, on the side, I couldn't read enough of the projected messages, or make out her lecture from the arena echo, so that was OK. She does point at Raising Malawi as a Web Site that does good stuff.

At one point she started bitching about unresponsive Las Vegas audiences (she had just arrived from there on her concert tour). I thought I heard her say "And you? You're shit!" to general applause. Maybe I misunderstood because of arena echo, but the masochist in me was getting excited.

Among the last numbers, 'Erotica,' was, predictably enough for Madonna, strangely unerotic. Eroticism requires playfulness, and Madonna is carefully programmed - she has to be to survive all the possible pitfalls, in concert. For example, during her pony ride, it was instructive to see just how careful she was with hand placement on the pole and the saddle, so as to avoid the possibility of injury. Actually, the most erotic number was the opening number, where her riding gear and aggressive equestrian brutality scared the bejesus out of me, and which I found secretly thrilling. Lovemaking with Madonna must be something like grabbing some fava beans and a bottle of Chianti and going on a picnic with Hannibal Lecter.

Towards the end, the roller skates came out, and the dancers did marvelously on them as they hurtled headlong on the catwalk, halting at the last possible moment. Madonna came out in the trademark John Travolta white suit and did a fun number, in part, to a remixed 'Disco Inferno'.

No encores, no muss, no fuss!

After seeing the concert last night, now seems a good time to comment on Camille Paglia's essay from last December, 'Dancing As Fast As She Can,' about Madonna's new album 'Confessions On The Dance Floor.' I agree with much that Paglia wrote, but at the end, disapprove of Paglia's censoriousness. Nevertheless, I think Paglia might agree with me is that, in a way, Madonna is playing it safe. Even though Madonna can see that dance music needs a rejuvenation, she needs to get more creative in order to be that revolutionary agent.

It appears clear that Madonna will leave her mark as a pop singer and dancer, and not, as she evidently hoped, as a film actress. Madonna is too self-willed and emotionally-armored to be a very good actress, except when playing others of her type (e.g., Evita). Her shrewd examination of pop culture shows that dance culture is most in need of a revival, and, having succeeded before there, she could well succeed again. But she's not going far enough.

Camille Paglia delves into Madonna's current album and her past:

With its infectious melodies and upbeat rhythms, "Confessions on a Dance Floor" is a good album -- but it is not a great one. And it certainly does not equal or surpass Madonna's early work. Normally, it is wrong and presumptuous to expect artists or performers to tarry in their first phase; we should welcome their creative evolution and stifle our own nostalgia. ... But in this case, Madonna has invited and courted the comparison to her younger self by going ostentatiously retro, from the discotheque cover image of "Confessions on a Dance Floor" to the vintage violet leather jacket and slutty pink leotard she is wearing in the album's publicity photos and debut video, with its "Saturday Night Fever" empty dance studio.

Madonna emerged from the New York dance club scene of the early 1980s as a reinterpreter of disco music, which had been declared dead after the Bee Gees juggernaut of the late '70s but was still thriving in the gay and black worlds. Her superb 1983 song "Burning Up" (recently covered by Boston's the Rudds) was the first step in her monumental creative renewal of disco, which would surge forward and by the late '80s and early '90s start to splinter and proliferate into the dozens of still-booming subforms of techno and trance music.

As a trained dancer who combined Martha Graham with jazz style, Madonna intuitively understood the deep dynamics of disco -- its implacable grandeur, its liquid pulses and skittering polyrhythms, its flamboyant emotionalism. It wasn't just the clunky thump-thump-thump of drum machines, as hard-rock acolytes contemptuously dismissed it. In a 1991 cover story on Madonna for London's Sunday Independent Review, I described disco as "a dark, grand Dionysian music with roots in African earth-cult" -- a defense that seemed bizarre because disco had yet to achieve academic legitimacy (which arrived in the '90s as more writers embraced popular gay history).
As an example of not going far enough, Madonna's appropriated ABBA's work for 'Hung Up.' The first instant I ever heard the song, my very first reaction, even before I knew it was Madonna, was 'damn, this must be a major artist, because who else could afford the rights to this song?' That should NEVER be one's first emotional reaction to a path-breaking song! Outrank anger is a better reaction than cynicism towards a new song - at least anger is honest, and indeed, is usually the first indication that something new has entered the world. Indeed, I remember how, when 'Lucky Star' and 'Borderline' were first heard on the airwaves in the early 80's, how I agreed for a short time with my college roommate that Madonna was terrible, and we should shun her. After a while, I realized my error, and that my anger was anger towards the new (anger towards the new that many expressed again in 1997 and 1998 when Britney Spears was first becoming popular).

Apparently Paglia agrees, at least about the part regarding the ABBA ripoff:
Through her fusion of Graham primitivism with Italian Catholic ritualism, Madonna caught the pagan majesty of disco and embodied it in a stunning body of original compositions that conquered the world and have never gone out of airplay -- "Into the Groove," "Open Your Heart," "Vogue" and a host of others. Her primary inspiration wasn't ABBA, the prolific and beloved Swedish pop group whose 1979 hit, "Gimme Gimme Gimme," is reworked -- or should I say pirated -- on "Hung Up," the signature song on her new CD. No, her real ancestor was the Italian magician, Giorgio Moroder, celebrated for the operatic albums he produced for Donna Summer in Germany, which were a direct influence on several of Madonna's fine early producers, like Jellybean Benitez.

Moroder does make an appearance on "Confessions on a Dance Floor" in the beat from Donna Summer's "I Feel Love" borrowed for "Future Lovers" (a track produced by Mirwais Ahmadzai), but it feels listless and undigested. Madonna's current main producer, Stuart Price, appears to have little feeling for or understanding of Moroder, who in my view remains the benchmark by which all old and new disco music must be measured. Last summer, Madonna described her forthcoming CD as "future disco" -- which raised the hopes of all die-hard disco fans that "Confessions on a Dance Floor" would be a masterpiece, a return to roots but also a visionary breakthrough.

That's not what we got -- though you'd never know it from the gushing reviews, which applauded the CD for achieving Madonna's purported aim of making people dance. My blood boiled at this insulting reduction of dance music to gymnastics -- mere recreational aerobics. I for one do not dance to dance music; disco for me is a lofty metaphysical mode that induces contemplation. (Of course, this may partly descend from my Agnes Gooch marginalization in the old bar scene, where I was -- as Nora Ephron would say -- a wallflower at the orgy.) Giorgio Moroder's albums, which I listened to obsessively on headphones, were an enormous inspiration to me throughout the writing of "Sexual Personae" in the 1970s and '80s. Disco at its best is a neurological event, a shamanistic vehicle of space-time travel.
Indeed, Paglia feels the album is badly-made:
I was shocked at how the reviews had failed to note its tinny shrillness, sonic cliches, and intermittently clumsy or muddy layering -- a startling lapse in Madonna's usually impeccable quality control. Even worse, the stitching together of one track into the next -- a basic disco convention that some reviews carelessly allowed readers to think was Madonna's innovation -- is in every case but one embarrassingly weak, wavering and amateurish. For decades, hundreds of ace DJs all over the world, in clubs or on street corners, have been doing masterly hypnotic variations of disco's seamless segue.

What is disappointing in "Confessions on a Dance Floor" is that its songs don't feel fully developed. It's like a first draft: Madonna is generating many interesting melodic ideas that stay in the mind, as on "Get Together" or "Forbidden Love," but they haven't really been thought through or lived with, and they are often suffocated or undermined by Price's tacky, penny-arcade embellishments. Price plainly lacks the elegant musicianship of a true techno artist like Paul van Dyk. Disco is visceral -- a quality missing here. In my opinion, there are only two truly strong songs, "Hung Up" and "Jump" -- especially the latter, with its magnificent, hymnlike ascensions.
I haven't heard the album fully myself, and a concert is usually a bad place to do so, given the arena echo that muddies even the best work. [Update: Having listened now to the album, I disagree with Paglia about the disco segues. Seamless segues are part-and-parcel of modern discotheque music, but not on orginal albums, when discrete breaks between songs are usually desirable.]

I did like that Madona is beginning to incorporate Yemenite rhythms into her work. Yemeni music distills the very soul and essence of excellent dance music:
The use of Mideastern tonalities on "Isaac" (which features a Yemeni singer from the London Kabbalah Centre) is ambitious, but the refrain becomes monotonous. The Israeli singer Ofra Haza was more effective with these atmospherics in the haunting "Love Song" and "Galbi" on her 1988 disco album, "Shaday."
Paglia is willing to give Madonna a break:
But it seems querulous to blame Madonna for anything, because she has given so much to the world. She is a model of prodigious productivity without any affectations of avant-garde self-destructiveness or anomie. Her dance moves and ensemble work have been absorbed by performers in film and TV all over the world, from Latin America to India and Japan. She revolutionized feminism by giving enormous momentum to the pro-sex wing that had been ostracized throughout the p.c. era of those puritan censors, Andrea Dworkin and Catharine MacKinnon. When I wrote in my polemical 1990 New York Times op-ed that "Madonna is the future of feminism," there were squawks of disbelief on all sides -- but that is exactly what came to pass over the next decade.

Madonna is her own Hollywood studio -- a popelike mogul and divine superstar in one. She has a laserlike instinct for publicity, aided by her visual genius for still photography (which none of her legion of imitators has). Unfortunately, her public life has dissolved into a series of staged photo ops. She has become a fashion icon more than a music pioneer. She lives in a peripatetic court of paid retainers -- flacks, flunkies, cooks, nannies and adoring handmaidens (no wonder she compares herself to Cleopatra in "Like It or Not"). She acquires properties and objects to flaunt in glossy magazines but somehow expects us to accept her as a spiritual wayfarer in Kabbalah, that chic brand of gnostic mysticism that she keeps doggedly and foolishly describing as "older than religion" (sigh -- doesn't she ever read books?).

A self-described "work Nazi," Madonna is overscheduled and overprogrammed. Remarkably for a Graham dancer, she has become poor at improvisation -- which produces her manic, mechanical stage shows, where little room is left for natural warmth or banter with the audience and where the production is always too small and precious for large arenas. There is a painfully tight calculation to Madonna's self-presentation that has certainly blighted this CD, with its preachy, sepulchral voiceovers. "I hate to waste time," Madonna says. But artists recharge themselves and their imaginations precisely when they are doing nothing.
Then Paglia takes the break away, and even becomes insulting:
When will she decide she has made enough money for 10 lifetimes and recommit herself to the noble cause of making music? Music never dies. Do we really need another Madonna tour? Does she have to compete with women performers 25 years her junior? Why turn every private moment, including motherhood, into commerce and publicity? (This was then-boyfriend Warren Beatty's complaint about her in "Truth or Dare.") And why does every artistic venture have to be crushed by streamrolling promotional gimmickry (like the depressingly literalist linkage of "Hung Up" to a cellphone company)?

At a recent party in New York celebrating Salon's 10th anniversary, the formidable Cintra Wilson said mordantly to me (I scribbled all this down on a cocktail napkin at the bar), "Madonna is the Robo-Celebrity, calcified with discipline -- religiously saintly, physically superhuman, in all ways faultless. She represents the unspoken desires of America -- to be good at everything!"

Even allowing for the fact that she must strenuously maintain her hipness for a busy husband 10 years her junior, Madonna is starting to morph into the mature Joan Crawford of "Torch Song," still ferociously dancing but with her fascist willpower signaled by brute, staring eyes and fixed jawline. In cannibalizing her disco diva days, Madonna runs the risk of turning into a pasty powdered crumpet like the aging Bette Davis in "What Ever Happened to Baby Jane?" Will she become a whooping Charo shaking her geriatric hoochie-coochie hips on TV talk shows? Or should we expect a sudden, grisly collapse from glowing beauty to dust, like Ursula Andress as the 2000-year-old femme fatale in "She"? Too hungry to connect to the youth market, Madonna goes on childishly using naughty words and flipping the finger (as onstage at Live 8 last summer). Marlene Dietrich, her supreme precursor, knew how to preserve her dignity and glamour.
Madonna's seemingly-belligerent refusal to care what people think of her is overdone in a number of songs: 'the lady doth protest too much.' She is quite worried, I believe, about her reputation. Paglia gets cruel here. I know what Madonna would say. Hell, Paglia knows what Madonna would say (lyrics from 'Like It Or Not' which is on her new album):
You can call me a sinner
But you can’t call me a saint
Celebrate me for who I am
Dislike me for what I ain’t
Put me up on a pedestal
Or drag me down in the dirt
Sticks and stones will break my bones
But your names will never hurt

I’ll be the garden, you’ll be the snake
All of my fruit is yours to take
Better the devil that you know
Your love for me will grow

This is who I am
You can like it or not
You can love me or leave me
Cause I’m never gonna stop, no no

Cleopatra had her way
Matahari too
Whether they were good or bad
Is strictly up to you

Life is a paradox
And it doesn’t make much sense
You can't have the femme without the fatale
Please don’t take offense

Don’t let the fruit rot under the vine
Fill up your cup and let’s drink the wine
Better the devil that you know
Your love for me will grow

This is who I am
You can like it or not
You can love me or leave me
Cause I’m never gonna stop, no no, you know
This is who I am
You can like it or not
You can love me or leave me
Cause I’m never gonna stop, no no, you know

No no, you know
No no, you know
No no, you know
No no, you know

I’ll be the garden, you’ll be the snake
All of my fruit is yours to take
Better the devil that you know
Your love for me will grow

This is who I am
You can like it or not
You can love me or leave me
Cause I’m never gonna stop, no no, you know
This is who I am
You can like it or not
You can love me or leave me
Cause I’m never gonna stop, no no, you know

No no, you know
No no, you know
No no, you know
No no, you know
I'm more lenient than Paglia. Madonna has done amazing things, and she might still do amazing things. At the end of last night's concert, the chorus line from 'Hung Up' echoed over and over, and whatever Kabbalah might involve, this is Madonna's true mantra:
Time goes by, so slowly
Time goes by, so slowly
Time goes by, so slowly
Time goes by, so slowly

So slowly...
There's still plenty of time!
Seven Brides Call, Plus Chroreographers & Elly Judges

Runaway Stage Productions (RSP) is looking for a replacement brother in Seven Brides for Seven Brothers.".
RSP is looking for the following performers for its current production of Seven Brides for Seven Brothers:

Gideon – (17 – 21) The youngest of the Pontipee Brothers. Tenor vocal range must be a good actor and dancer.

Suitor – (17 – 25) Rival of the Pontipee Brothers. Good dancer, actor and singer.

Boys and Girls – (8-14) years of age. Good singers and actors.

If you are interested in auditioning for one of these parts please contact:

Seven Brides for Seven Brothers is currently in rehearsal and all interested parties are encouraged to apply immediately.

Seven Brides for Seven Brothers performs July 7 – 30, 2006, Fridays and Saturdays at 8 p.m. and Sundays at 2 p.m. at the 24th Street Theatre, 2791 24 th Street, Sacramento

Bob Baxter
Also of interest is this other RSP announcement:
RSP has a position open for the next Youth Musical Theatre Workshop (YMTW):

The position is a paid position for choreographer. The position is a stipened position depending on enrollment and the commitment is approximately two days a week for 10 weeks begingin June 24th (orientation 10 a.m. - 12 noon) and Mondays, Wednesdays 5:30 - 7:00 p.m. and some Saturdays 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. Schedules are negotiable. It is required that all staff be available for orientation, tech week and performances. If you are intersted in this position please send an e-mail expressing your interest and some experince in choreographing children ages 6-16 and your contact information (name, phone numbers and e-mail address). The production is Bye Bye Birdie and this is a general workshop for all children.

RSP also has a position of Choreographer available for The Full Monty, this is also a stipend position. The position is responsible for all choreography for the show and must be available for auditions, various rehearsals (negotiable) and tech week. If you are intersted in this position please respond with an e-mail expressing your interest, experience and contact information (name, phone number, e-mail). Auditions for the Full Monty are July 9th and 10th at 7 p.m.

SARTA is looking for judges for the Elly awards in the Young People's category. If you are interested please contact Peggy O'Guinn at the SARTA Office. Please respond immediately if you are interested in being a judge.
Madonna - "Confessions" Tour, San Jose, May 30, 2006, Pictures

I really need to get a faster digital camera, or learn how to use the one I have better. Some nice possibilities here, unrealized. Nevertheless, has some better shots!

"Ray of Light"

"Live To Tell" Side view of Madonna on a cross

"Like A Virgin"
"Gift of the Magi"

I ended up missing seeing my friend Jerry in San Jose. Georgette had a cell phone, but Jerry left his at home:
Too bad we missed each other! So sorry for the late start (a matter of unrealistic expectations, balancing work, picking up Georgette and the exasperating but fortunately short-lived traffic jam at Highways 580 and 680).

After arriving, I made a beeline for your office, arriving at about 6:40 p.m., but by that time you had left. Then we ate at a tacqueria near 4th & Santa Clara until 7:20 p.m., actually arriving at the arena at about 7:40 p.m.
Jerry replied:
It's like that O. Henry story, "The Gift of the Magi" -- we were both trying to do what we thought was most convenient for the other. (I thought sure that you would park close to the arena!) I figured you might get in around 6:30, so I decided to head over to the arena at about 6:05. I got over there around 6:30 and walked back-and-forth along Santa Clara Street until about 7:00
I should come down when there isn't any time pressure, and we should sit in a Mexican Restaurant for three hours and drink margaritas together!

The concourse at the HP Pavilion was very crowded when we arrived for the Madonna "Confessions" concert Tuesday evening in San Jose. Sometimes, especially in front of sales booths, it got to the point where movement was difficult.

At one point, two women travelling along brushed against me, one behind and one in front. The woman in front, carrying a glass of wine, noted that she might spill it on me. I joked that I'd lap up every drop, and she smiled and said it would certainly taste good. We went our separate ways on the way to our seats.

A minute later, I noticed I no longer had my wallet.

Security folks at the HP Pavilion were certainly understanding, but what could be done against a pickpocket? I spent the evening under a bit of a pall, wondering about how much credit damage would occur.

It was certainly a pleasure seeing my wallet again, on the driver's side floormat, when we returned to the car after the concert....

I did end up getting fleeced nevertheless, meaning I spent all my cash, on parking and food and gas. It would have happened anyway, but by not having the wallet with me in the arena, I probably saved money by not buying overpriced Madonna schlock using the credit card. At least I spent the cash myself rather than some criminal do it for me, though! I now have a Madonna T-Shirt, purchased from a street vendor to whom I pleaded poverty, and for which I spent $7 in random cash I had in my pocket, rather than his asking price of $10!
More On John Hancock, Plus Two Things We Can Do

Two messages today; one from Juan Ramos and one from MikeMac, regarding what's up with John. First, from Juan:
John was in surgery yesterday from 10:00 a.m. until about 6:00 p.m. Orthopedic surgery was done on his left hip and his right ankle. He held up well during surgery and recuperated well. So those who have visited him previously will notice that he no longer has weights hanging on the left side of his bed. These weights are used to keep his hips in alignment until surgery. His next surgery is scheduled for tomorrow (Thursday). The focus will be on the open wounds in his right calf and his left forearm which will involve skin grafts and orthopedic surgery on his right knee. His nurse reported this morning that as she was moving John's hand he squeezed it. That was very good news.
MikeMac reports:
John is doing pretty well. The nurse last night said today will be a rest day for him, with another 6 hours or so of dialysis. He should be a bit more responsive after that, but it's still unclear how cognizant he'll be. His pelvis has been finished, and he has plates on the two fractures, apparently. Also, you'll notice one of his legs is out of traction (no weights pulling the bones into shape), since his left leg is apparently finished with operations. He will be sent back in for more surgeries tomorrow, but he's out of heavy sedation again for a while.

His creatinin levels are rather high ..., but still nothing for them to really worry about. His kidneys are producing urine, but not always at full bore.... They said his liver functioning was pretty good, although there was still the risk that it was damaged a bit in the loss of blood pressure.

Anyone who wants to donate blood in John's name (he's had to have several units put in) can go to any Blood Bank. It's a fairly common occurence and they are prepared to handle it. There is a blood bank just two or three blocks from the UCD Med Center near between Alhambra and 32nd Street on Stockton Boulevard: 1625 Stockton Blvd, I believe. Here is a Google Maps page with some other blood banks in the Sacramento Metropolitan area:
MikeMac continues:
Here is an e-mail from Noemi Rios detailing "Take Me Out" performance dates:

The show (in case you have not already received the information) runs through to June 17th.

We have performances on Fri June 2, and Sat June 3, and Sun June 4, Fri June 9th and Sat June 10th, Fri June 16 and Close on Sat June 17. Tickets are $15.00, and the show starts at 8:00PM.

Tickets are selling fast. Hope you can pass on the word or come see the show yourself. Thank you for your help.

Noemi C. Rios

Only 7 more chances to see it and support Juan and John!

Tuesday, May 30, 2006

John Hancock Update

The word this weekend from several visitors was that John 'turned a corner' in his progress, meaning his condition has stabilized and is no longer quite as precarious as last week. His eyes are open now.

This morning, John Hancock is in surgery, to address his hip and pelvic injuries (there wasn't much time to address these problems last week). Here is a message direct from Juan Ramos:
He is scheduled for surgery today at about 10:00 a.m. to address the injuries to both hips and his pelvis. This will be about 6 to 8 hours, visits should be scheduled for after 7:00 p.m. tonight. He had a day of respite from every-other-day surgeries because of the Memorial Day holiday. I was with him last night from 9:00 p.m. to midnight and despite the heavy sedation he was very slowly blinking his eyes in response to my voice, for which I was grateful. It will be awhile before he can come out of the sedation and the anesthesia from surgeries. UCD staff has been absolutely incredible and continue to address his injuries as rapidly as they can while continuing to keep him stable which is quite a balancing act. The doctors did say he has "turned the corner." I continue to encourage his numerous friends and loved ones to visit him and talk to him even though he is under sedation. I know it has been and will be a very important part of his healing. You may call 734-2848 beforehand to make sure he out of the operation room and in his room.
Fashion Dictatorship

See, Gabe, I know all about red yarn Kabbalah wristbands - the Internet told me about it!:
In today’s fast-paced 21st century society, we have seen a flood of icons that have influenced the world of fashion. Paris Hilton made a Chihuahua the latest accessory for wannabe celebrities and Pharell made it cool to pop the collar of your Lacoste polo. Even so, these fads (and oftentimes celebrities) tend to fade out as soon as they come. With Madonna, it’s totally different. Back in the 80’s she made rubber bracelets a staple in little girls’ jewelry boxes and we will never forget her “pleasuring” antics in that pointy Blonde Ambition bra. Sure, there are times when her experimental couture ways were immediate flops, but most of the time, her style tends to echo throughout time. Otherwise, people wouldn’t be wearing those rubber bracelets today or donning pearl snap cowboy shirts reminiscent of her “Don’t Tell Me” video.
Here Come The Clones!

There was an interesting item in the paper yesterday ("Bettors Nightmare: 2 Identical Mules" - no link, however) regarding a mule race, soon to be held in Winnemucca, NV, between Idaho Gem and Idaho Star, mules who have not just similar names, are not simply related, but are actually clones of each other. It sounds like a fascinating experiment to decouple the nature-vs.-nurture debate, and just look at the nuture part.
Idaho Gem was the first animal from the horse family cloned and his brother, Idaho Star, was the third. Both were born three years ago and carry identical DNA taken from a fetus produced by the same parents that sired a champion mule racer named Taz.
For my part, I'm rooting for Idaho Gem, although I'm hard-pressed to say why, exactly. Maybe it's because:
Idaho Gem bolted and ran over his trainer's foot when a helicopter flew nearby. Star remained calm.

Sunday, May 28, 2006

Artistic Differences

In the last decade, small community and school-based theater organizations have proliferated in Sacramento. These groups are responding to a variety of needs, not least of which is finding genuine artistic expression in an age when large media organizations threaten to pre-empt and co-opt all such expression.

In the six months since DMTC opened the Hoblit Performing Arts Center, several groups have either sprung into existence to take advantage of the new facility's availability (Dreamcoat Productions; Teen Cabaret, Helen Spangler's Children's Workshop) or have used the facility to further their own mission (Flying Monkees).

Now, a new organization is taking shape: Artistic Differences. Erik Daniells is one of the people behind the new venture: there are a number of others as well.

Like Flying Monkees, Artistic Differences isn't necessarily wedded to one physical facility, but rather, is in service to a concept. Flying Monkees is in service to young musical theater enthusiasts. Artistic Differences is in service to a more nebulous, but nevertheless noble, goal - artistic excellence:
We are committed to planning and executing each of our staged productions to achieve the highest artistic quality to which we are capable. We will not be afraid to take calculated artistic risks and will strive for growth based on a continual critical evaluation of our strengths and weaknesses.
Artistic excellence is hard to achieve in musical theater, because the effort is necessarily a collaborative effort, and can be hamstrung by the weakest part of the effort. It seems to me that there two ways to have the best shot at artistic excellence:
  • use the best available performers; and,
  • allow ample time for rehearsals.

Hopefully, the new group will do both.

The first public performance of Artistic Differences will be with the show "Falsettos," with a preview scheduled for Sunday, July 2nd at 8:00 PM at DMTC's Hoblit Performing Arts Center, 607 Peña Drive, Davis, and with shows scheduled July 21st, 22nd, 23rd, and continuing on August 4th, 5th, 6th. A number of good performers are already lined up:
Michael RJ Campbell, Ken Figeroid, Marcy Goodnow, Joey Harris, Margaret Hollinbeck, Craig Howard, Jerry Lee, Kristen Wagner and more to be announced.
The best of good fortune with this new venture!
Tropical Storm Aletta

First of the Pacific season!
Start With A Bang?

The NOGAPS computer weather model looks ahead a week, and sees the month of June, the beginning of hurricane season, starting with a tropical storm near Bermuda.
2000 Pound Wonder

Pat Robertson either:
  • is the strongest man alive; or,
  • has trouble with numbers.
Pot Doesn't Cause Lung Cancer?

The strange result of a recent study. I figured smoke of any sort is likely to cause cancer, but this study suggests otherwise.