Friday, October 30, 2009

Should A Hearing Actor Be Cast in The Miracle Worker?

There is a minor tempest in a tea cup brewing over whether or not it is inappropriate to cast a hearing actor in the role of Helen Keller in an upcoming production of The Miracle Worker in NY with several deaf advocacy groups taking a predictable stand. They should let it pass.

Im sympathetic to the challenges faced by people with any physical issues that choose acting as a profession, but when they or their advocates claim that someone without their issue should not play characters with that condition they are wrong, very wrong. The point of acting, hell the point of art, is that it speaks to us universally. If a hearing actor cannot possibly portray a deaf character then where does it stop? How could an actor who was not a victim of child abuse play a character who was, or gay, or a Jew? The list goes on. This kind of thinking, however well intentioned, would inevitably lead to a complete artistic balkanization with swaths of actors only eligible to play the roles to which they were born. It is entirely antithetic to what draws us to art in the first place.

Why do we have tax exempt status in the first place

Volokh makes a good point that tax exemptions for churches would be impossible to eliminate as long as other organizations retain theirs. Which raises the obvious question as to why do tax exemptions exist at all and why isn't this a bigger issue for conservatives?

Obviously there are any number of tax exempt non profits that do all kinds of good work that I support, just as there are a good number that do work that I think we'd be better off without.
But either way their tax exempt status amounts to a subsidy that we're required to dole out regardless of what we think of them or their work. I'd really rather not be paying higher taxes because the two Catholic churches in neighborhood that sit on prime real estate pay none. But I do, and so do you...

I'd support a complete dissolution of tax exempt status but retain deductions for giving. If we're to involve the tax code at all that strikes me as far more equitable and it strikes me further that this should be an abiding issue for conservatives, but having been largely co-opted by fundamentalist Christians this is a point no politician would ever attempt to make. However its difficult for me to process the status an anything other than a governmental preference for certain activities over others with the contribution to the common good being difficult if not impossible to quantify.

Thursday, October 29, 2009

The 2nd Amendment Kinda Blows..

I like to deer hunt and would probably also like to go turkey hunting though I've never been and so accordingly Im sort of in the market for a scoped deer rifle and perhaps a .12 gauge. When I've gone hunting in the past its just been much easier and cheaper to borrow something from my brother in law's arsenal.

I say that for context.....

The 2nd amendment is I think easily the most problematic of the first 10. As we interpret it now it amounts to a golden guarantee that many people will die as a result of gun violence.

Im going to say something else that's crazy. The NRA aint all bad. I'll grant you every whacked out hysterical conspiracy and gun nut rant if you'll grant me that they do in fact do more than any other organization to promote responsible gun use. Now I'd like it much better if they didn't at the same time enable so much irresponsible gun use but our culture is such that we can't currently separate one from the other and I j'accuse the 2nd amendment.

As a wanna-be Constitutional scholar these are the issues as I see them...

First of all I don't think we're readin' the damn thing right. This question is finally going to get some SC love in this term I believe but the amendment says this:

"A well regulated militia, being necessary to the security of the State, the right of the people to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed"

A little different from the bumper stickers you see from the Cold Dead Hands crowd isn't it? It strikes me as clear as clear can be that the amendment was written to address gun ownership in the service of a larger point, namely national security at a time when standing armies weren't terribly popular. Had the framers simply wanted to say that gun ownership was a universal right subject to no conditions they certainly would have. They didn't. They made it contingent and in doing so I think clearly left the door open for reasonable restrictions. To read the amendment otherwise seems to me to be an obvious case of conservative judicial activism or reading the Constitution with a social bias.

A blanket interpretation is anachronistic. Clearly guns mean different things in different locations I think its impossible to take a responsible approach to guns that does not take that into consideration.

As I type this in Chicago there is no good reason for me to hear gunfire outside my house. It can only be bad. If I were in rural Missouri or Oklahoma where I've gone hunting and I were to hear gunfire it really wouldn't mean much at all regardless of whether it was hunting season or not. So why do we tolerate laws that assumes gun shots are the same every where? Doesn't it strike you as the height of common sense that gun laws in heavily populated areas would be different from gun laws in sparsely populated areas? Of course it does and of course local governance is a cornerstone of conservative politics. But not here. And children are dead and more will die because of it.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

The Ongoing Myth of Conservative Patriotism

A few weeks ago I posted an article that argued that for all their lapel pin wearing blather conservatives don't actually love America the country so much as they love America the mirror that reflects their social values. But hey, you don't have to take my word for it, Pat Buchanan makes my point beautifully here as he asserts that "Traditional Americans" are losing their country.

The point here isn't that Buchanan is fear-mongering necessarily or inventing concerns because he elucidates some legitimate problems but he gives himself away in imagining that these problems would only worry "Traditional Americans" or those folks who by insinuation have more of a stake in things going to hell. If Pat and his ilk don't see your reflection in their mirror well then its impossible for them to imagine that you'd share their interests.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

MDQ Shut Out. Really??

Im treading dangerously into sour grapes territory here so I have to lay out a brief defense of the whine Im about to go on and accordingly this would probably be a good time to go lawyer and mention that these are my opinions alone and almost certainly don't reflect anyone else's involved with the show in anyway shape or form.

Our show got shut out at the Jeff's last night. Now the little shred of integrity Im struggling to stand on here is that I was not a part of the cast when it was nominated and so my work really was not a part of that recognition. I didn't identify with that honor in this case because I didn't earn it. In fact I offered to let the previous actor go in my place since he had more to do with it than I did and had we won I wouldn't have felt like I had a helluva lot to do with it in any event. So Im claiming at least some objectivity, but whether you buy it or not here comes a bitch storm....

What a load of bullshit that was.

Look, I can understand how it might be hard for the matronly Jeff Committee to measure this show against a more traditional musical because that is one thing we are not. MDQ is more of an unstoppable ass kicking machine than it is your standard musical theatre fare, and thank god for it because that sappy shit makes me want to puke more often than not. So we're the square peg knocking against the round hole and really that's where we'd rather be if I can speak for the group.


When Levi Kreis, who clearly has more talent in the space between the first and second knuckle of the lesser of his two little fingers than most of the other barking hacks out there combined, is passed over by the Jeff Committee in favor of some entirely over earnest simp, well then kids something is desperately awry. Desperately. Same can be said for the fact that his was the only performance singled out for a nomination. These guys don't grow on trees like, oh say, fey tenors aspiring to butched up gravitas do. It was a particularly conspicuous Jeff FAIL because the list of other shows that received more awards AND are also going to Broadway AND have comparably enormous futures ahead of them is as follows:

So why no MDQ love?

We're the NY Yankees of Chicago theatre. Seriously.

The story Chicago Theatre likes to tell itself is that this a plucky little hard scrabble kind of place to come to that probably wont make you rich but will offer the humble and pure of heart the chance to take big risks that couldn't happen in NY or LA and so informs and shapes the subsequent big successful careers you go have some place else. Chicago aint about easy money its about heart and commitment, or so we say. And its kind of true to a point. But its also true then that this becomes a self fulfilling prophesy and so we end up celebrating the performances that fit that paradigm instead of performances that just are plain better than everything else out there.

Think Im full of shit? Well indulge me....

Imagine MDQ the show exactly as it is now, performance wise, but with different hometowns for most of the cast. If it were directed by someone with a local pedigree like Gary Griffin or the like, and if Rob Lyons, Eddie Clendening, and Kelly Lamont were long time Chicago actors who also just so happened to be kick ass ( or even merely competent) musicians and singers as well, then hell, there wouldn't be enough space on anyone's shelf to hold all the little statuettes we would have carried home last night.

But the MDQ back story isn't about wholesome hometown heroes making good so its easier to ignore how goddamn excellent it actually is. It doesn't reinforce the Chicago narrative because its big, for profit, and just employs the best people period instead of the best local people. We're a big noisy example of what Chicago doesn't do very well. We aren't "One of the Ones" locally anyway, to borrow a phrase, so everybody else gets graded on the curve. So the upshot is that the Jeff Committee doesn't really present an award show so much as they stage a hometown circle jerk.

There. I said it.

Monday, October 12, 2009

The Best Possible Argument For Government Health Care

The insurance industry pushes back. Not unexpected of course but they're clearly the authors of their own doom in this. Their point is a simple one and it articulates precisely why for profit insurance doesn't work. It comes down to this: If insurance companies cannot deny coverage to high risk customers, also known as very sick people, then they'll have to raise your premiums because they can't possibly be expected to cut into their profit margins.

We sell insurance companies our risk, period. We don't buy access to health care. So when the price of our risk gets too high they have every reason to limit their exposure to our risk. That's how market driven insurance works. The system we have now isn't broken, it works exactly like it should because it is motivated by profit for shareholders and not levels of care for sick people. If you like profits more than you like sick people being taken care of then you should oppose reform.

The reason health insurance is different from every other kind of insurance is that when it comes to our health there is no fixed cost of replacement. The worst thing that can possibly happen to your car insurance company is that they will have to replace your car and we know pretty much how much that costs. Same for your home insurance company springing for a new roof. Their risk exposure is bracketed so they can set premiums relative to known costs.

Health care though? Who knows what the level of risk might be. I've been to the doctor once this decade but if I get hit by a bus tomorrow I might run up God only knows how much in medical bills. The sky is literally the limit and insurance companies can't both insure you to the stratosphere AND make money so they drop people and limit coverage whenever they can.
Its what markets do.

If you like the idea of calling 911 to summon the police or fire department then you agree with me in principle that universal, or "socialized" healthcare, is the best option. We may disagree about how to get there but unless you've got a private security firm protecting your life and property you can't really argue the point on substance. You can't.

Friday, October 9, 2009

And The Nobel For Scorched Earth Politics Goes To....

Not too suspenseful is it?

Im not unsympathetic to the plight of my conservative friends, Im really not, but I don't feel badly enough for them to not notice how this Nobel Prize episode reveals what a struggle it is for them to assert policy narratives that can stand up to more than 15 seconds of pondering.

First the low hanging fruit.....

Conservatives of course will tell you that things like Nobel Prizes don't really matter, until of course they do matter for reasons that are entirely of their own expedient making. As a point of legitimacy I don't think there is anything wrong necessarily in poo-pooing the import of stuff like this, except of course they need to remember that things they find trivial should always be trivial and this they cannot do. I like to call this "Make Up A Story And Stick With It"

Now the story line struggling to take hold here is that this is yet another example of how Obama has been awarded for having done nothing and apparently disproves the adage that you can't fool all the people all the time. In fairness I don't think there is anything untoward in suggesting that we're hardly in Mother Teresa territory here.... but ... nothing? Really? Lets look closer shall we....

We're talking about a President who has committed the most powerful nation on earth to ending a war that is completely indefensible and unneeded. A President who has stated categorically that we will no longer rationalize torture or the illegal rendition of detainees,
a President committed to closing Guatanamo, a President who has taken our case for individual liberty directly to the Muslim world, and on the domestic front a President who has injected a degree of thoughtfulness, honesty, and depth into our national discussion on race that I thought I would never see.

Now, fish and loaves maybe it aint. But nothing?? Your dogmatic slip is showing.

So why doesn't the Right see this? Again, we know the answer. Their myopia is reflective of nothing more than the extent to which they have invested themselves in scorched earth politics. They cannot see how Obama's tack on foreign affairs might play in the rest of the world because they've tried, and obviously failed, to frame these as failures on his part. They are still struggling to accept that the last 8 years of Neo-Con babbling has been a horrid episode for America, or if they do accept it they try to pretend like it doesn't matter, and neither point holds.

And finally....

The deep personal disdain they hold Obama in is revealed in this nugget. Regardless of what you think about the Nobel Committee or their stinkin' prize or Obama for that matter Im struggling to grasp how anyone could not look at this and see how it works for the national good. Are we really worse off now that the world is more optimistic about our policy goals?
Does this really make it harder for us to deal with Iran, North Korea, Israel/Palestine? Of course not, but they have to feel as though it does somehow or just ignore that it doesn't because not to would mean they have to deal with the truth. And they don't want that.

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Why you should run a marathon.

When I was in my 30's I was kind of a work out fanatic. For a period of four or five years I ran several triathalons, 5k's, and finally a marathon and when I wasn't actually competing I was spending more time and mental energy than I should have worrying about how to shave 3 minutes off my swim time. So that really hot set of abs I had was bought with a fair amount of self absorption, but then nothing in life is free, and while I still like to think Im easing into my mid 40's in better shape than most Im not doing anything like the mileage I used to and I've conceded that the six pack is gone, never to come again. I blame beer.

But I don't think I'll ever come to understand the hint of glee so many non athletes take in finding any suggestion that perhaps the whole boom in marathons and other distance events might be over stated with regards to subsequent health benefits. Today its the Wall St. Journal that apparently has nothing better to do than wonder if the running a marathon is really "worth it" or not.

Look, the boom in marathons have obviously drawn in a lot of people who are seduced by the event itself rather than the lifestyle. They make the attempt hoping that it will change them into the better selves they want to be and that's asking the wrong question. There is no special transformative magic in marathons in and of themselves anymore so than there is in saying you're going to quit smoking. The benefit lies ultimately in the commitment and not the singular event so if you can't keep it up then of course nothing much is going to happen. Don't we already know this?

So no, Im not running 45 miles a week anymore and probably never will. But I learned something in the effort that I don't think I could possibly have learned otherwise and I refer to it frequently. I learned that more often than not it is not the pain you are in that makes you quit.
Its that pain combined with the fear of what's coming that makes you quit. In the moment you are in, you are almost always okay. Stay in your moment and you can take the pain.

Saturday, October 3, 2009

How the Olympic bid reminds me of the health care debate.

The similarity struck me long ago but now that the bid has failed and failed miserably I think its worth considering more deeply how very much alike the two are.

Most obvious of course is that the opposition in both cases is rooted in personality politics with a deep antipathy toward the organizing politician and the supposed elitist class the the nay sayers imagine he works for. In both cases the opposition feels like something much larger is at stake which tends to increases the level of confirmation bias in their thinking and dissuades them from seriously considering any information which suggests that they may be wrong even though it is abundant. And in both cases the supposed alternatives the opposition suggests are woefully unrealistic and the overall view expressed is one of surprising skepticism and frankly a casual sort of spite that refuses to consider the full ramifications of failure.

The cherry on top here though is that, anecdotally at least, the people I've come across who opposed the Olympic bid are the same people who are politically very much in the tank for Obama and his policies. Evidently they don't hear Eric Cantor or Michelle Bachmann echoing through their own words. You can't coach irony......

Before I go on I should say that obviously I supported the bid very strongly but not because I wanted the Olympics necessarily. I support any event along these lines that has the capacity to be a long term economic engine for the city. I find it stunningly self evident that not only is it perfectly legitimate to use large triggering events like the Games to focus public policy on larger issues it is good governance as well.

But its the last two similarities that I think are the most pyrrhic for the opposition and the ones I want to focus on more closely.

I've heard it expressed often that money spent on the preparations for the Games would be put to far better use if it were just spent instead on non-Games related infrastructure. Its a struggle to respond to something so unbelievably fatuous but Im going to try.

Let me put it simply. That wont be happening. Now many in the anti Games crowd take that as some justification that this was a simple issue of stadiums over people, as if either could exist in a clean vacuum. I like to call this kind of thinking Hippie-Dippie. So why wont it be happening? Two reasons.

First of all human nature. Like it or not reality is such that people are far far far more likely to organize their energy and money around specific events, the bigger the better. Its why non profits hold events like galas and other seemingly frivolous things. They are focusers, points around which people can gather and identify with so while its nice to imagine that we will now simply take that same spirit that was put into the bid and turn it towards rebuilding the school down the street that isn't in any way reflective of reality. Its Hippie-Dippie. Now you can bitch about the shortcomings of our species or you can work within its limitations. Score one here for Team Bitch.

Secondly the economics simply are not there. At all. Heading into this year the city was facing a deficit of roughly $420 million and many against the bid have used that as a reason to oppose spending on the Olympics. Well okay... If the argument is that we're too broke to spend money on the Olympics, which would have the long term capacity to increase the tax base well beyond the point it would have been absent the Games, then how suddenly can we afford more deficit spending on infrastructure without both the short and long term influx of tax revenue from the Games and related spending? We can't. At all. Its like they're saying 0 + -420= 1 million. It is obvious, achingly obvious, that excepting some major external event there will be no massive capital expenditure in the city because in that context it only increases debt and subsequently raises your taxes. Its Dues ex machina economics minus the Dues.

So instead we get nothing at all which should strike you as very GOP-ey in its spite.

But suppose you take issue with my economics. It doesn't matter because it gets even worse the deeper you dig into this.

The most common complaint I've heard however is that Chicago simply isn't able to pull the games off, which makes my eyes want to roll out of my head when you consider the other international venues that have successfully hosted the games, but there it is. Now no one would deny the short comings the city has, crime corruption, poverty etc. But if your position is that these make the Olympics impossible then you aren't actually making an anti Olympic argument,
you're arguing that Chicago doesn't have the capacity to do anything, ever. Even the thing you

If corruption and cronyism make it impossible for the Games to benefit anyone but the most well connected then wont the same issues plague some Hippie-Dippie plan for subsequent capital improvements at the expense of the improvement? Of course it will. You can't make an argument of selective incompetence and expect to be taken seriously but this kind of incomplete thinking has turned a significant number of Chicagoans inward instead of outward. By constructing the false equation that Olympics=more problems while no Olympics=no problems Chicagoans have inexplicably chosen a deeply flawed status quo over the possibility of a better day. And they're happy about it.

And this kind of thing should bother the fuck out of everyone because this sort of cheap cynicism is likely to crowd any future efforts to improve our collective lots as well

I really don't want to make this a "love it or leave it" point but I think its fair to ask those of such little faith in the city what do you think the city CAN do? If the city can't handle the logistical run up to a two week event then how is it that you arrive at the decisions that this is a reasonable place to pursue your career, start a business, raise a family, own a home? The list goes on. And again I think these questions are more than fair because the thinking behind this particular point of opposition is so ill formed.