Where The Buck Should Stop

userpic=trumpOne of the big distractions in the news this week, other than how Kellyanne Conway sits on a sofa, has been the fiasco with Best Picture at the Oscars. I’ve already shared my thoughts on why this happened; instead, I’d like to look at what PWC did immediately afterwards: they accepted responsibility. That is the mark of a responsible CEO and business leader. When their business screws up, as the leader at the top of the food chain, they accept responsibility for the action, and clearly state they will find the cause and correct the system so it doesn’t happen again. I’m sure you can think of numerous examples (one of the best known). With respect to government this principle is clear, and it goes back to Harry S. Truman, who had the sign on his desk: “The Buck Stops Here.”

President Trump was supposedly elected because of his experience in business and as a CEO. One would think he would have learned this.

Obviously, one would be thinking wrong.

Just this week, there have been three egregious instances where President Trump has blamed anyone but himself or his administration for problems in the country:

The President is a leader — someone who leads in words and by example. Mr. Trump is failing to do that. Update: He started his speech tonight by condemning the antisemitic violence — which is good.


A War Not Fought By Soldiers

According to Donald Trump, we’re in a war. But this is not the war against ISIS; it is not the war against terrorism. But it is a war for the soul of America.

Let me explain. An article in the LA Times this morning had the headline: “The real goal of Trump’s executive orders: Reduce the number of immigrants in the U.S.” Why does Trump want to do this? Here’s how the article starts:

Behind President Trump’s efforts to step up deportations and block travel from seven mostly Muslim countries lies a goal that reaches far beyond any immediate terrorism threat: a desire to reshape American demographics for the long term and keep out people who Trump and senior aides believe will not assimilate.

In pursuit of that goal, Trump in his first weeks in office has launched the most dramatic effort in decades to reduce the country’s foreign-born population and set in motion what could become a generational shift in the ethnic makeup of the U.S.

Think about it this way: Before the 1960s, what was the goal of immigrants? To blend in. To become part of the American culture, to melt into the great American melting pot and become indistinguishable from everyone else. Distinctive cultural traditions were lost: this was the era of Reform Judaism and religious practice that looked like Christian practice. It was white bread — everyone blending in. Comfortable conformity. This is the era where the White Man was superior. It is also the era to which much of small town America aspires: it is in many ways the epitome of small town America. This is the era that Trump, and many of his followers, pine for.

When you look at the post-1960 era — and especially what America has become — it is best expressed by a phrase from that era: “Black is Beautiful”. We celebrate our distinct culture. It is the era of Black Studies and Women Studies and Asian Studies in college. It is the era of wearing our religious identity “in your face”: hijabs, kippot, turbans, all are beautiful. We celebrate our origins and we keep them separate. We are no longer a homogenous melting pot with a uniform flavor: we are a diverse multiflavored broth where you can taste every distinct flavor. We don’t hide our diversity, we insist and treasure it.  We insist on it at work because it makes us better thinkers. We work to make up for past mistakes with affirmative action programs and providing extra advantages to classes previously disadvantaged — all so we can have more diversity. We don’t want our immigrants to assimilate and blend in. We want them to stand out, celebrate their origins, and be diverse.

[ETA: In a comment on Facebook, I used this analogy: Think of America as a large box of crayons of all colors. The Trump Administration wants to go back to the melting pot: where these crayons are melted together (assimilated) into a single homogeneous color, all the same. He is protesting the approach of the recent generations, which is to recognize that while we are all crayons, it is the variety of colors that makes us beautiful and stronger.]

President Trump, his advisors, and all their followers hate this. Their answer: reduce those immigrant groups that won’t assimilate into the whole. The Mexicans. The Muslims. (and I wouldn’t be surprised if he didn’t go after the Orthodox Jews at some point, the Amish having been here far too long). How do we do this? Hmmm, just look at those executive orders.

(Psst. There was once another leader in the 1930s who wanted a similar goal for his nation. We know how that ended, especially for those groups that were different.)

Seeing the truth is the key. Pay no attention to the man behind the curtain.


The Oscar Screwup: Bad Design and Narcissism

Last night was the Oscars, and if you saw it (as I did), you saw the screwup where the movie La La Land was announced as the Best Picture winner, and then there was an “ummm, we made a mistake”, and Moonlight was announced as the real Best Picture winner.  You may have even heard how it happened: Price-Waterhouse (now PWC), thanks to the LA Times releasing the names of the winner back in 1940, now handles things with the utmost secrecy: two people tabulate the results, they prepare two identical sequences sets of envelopes, and one is on either side of the stage to cover wherever the speaker enters from. They handed one envelope for Best Actress just before Best Picture, and somehow when the speakers entered from the other side, they were also handed Best Actress instead of Best Picture. The rest, as they say, is history.

What is unanswered is why this happened?

The real reason appears to be: Bad Design. According to the LA Times, a new envelope design — red with the category embossed on the front in gold lettering — could have been a factor. This year, a new company was used to print the envelope. Previous envelopes were gold, affixed with large ecru labels stating the categories in a proprietary typeface that provided contrast and legibility. This year’s new cards, with the  lower contrast gold printing on red envelopes, could have been hard to read in the lighting backstage. I’ve seen similar problems with logos in the past: Wells Fargo Bank is particularly bad, with yellow text on a red background (which makes it difficult to see on a sign). Bank of America had a similar design problem: after their merger with a NC bank,  they had a good logo with red and blue lettering, but they put it on a red background.

Of course, this being the US in 2017, there is also a fake reason: Narcissism. According to Donald Trump, the it was Hollywood’s obsession with attacking him that contributed to the botched best picture announcement. Yeah. Right.

Then again, Gene Spafford opined a different reason: “Warren’s mistake is understandable. La La Land won the majority vote. Moonlight won the Oscar Electoral College vote.”

In other news, Elon Musk says he is sending two well-paying private customers to the moon and back next year. To paraphrase another friend on FB: Can we get him to send four administration officials on a one-way trip instead. Pretty please?

[ETA: PS: The solution is easy: QR codes and apps. On each award card, print a QR code with the category. Put that code on the envelope as well. When stuffing the envelope, use an app that requires scanning both and gives an error if they aren’t the same (e.g., ensuring right card in the right envelope). Award night, the director of the show uses an app to indicate the current award being given out (he knows this because he or she has to cue the graphics). When handing the card to the presenter, they scan the code on the envelope. If it doesn’t match the award being given, an error is given. Plus, this gives an audit trail, something PWC would love.]


Finding the Child Within | “Finding Neverland” @ Pantages

Finding Neverland (Hollywood Pantages)From where does inspiration arise? What gives the author the impetus to write a story, particularly an imaginative story? These are the questions that underlie the musical Finding Neverland (FB), currently at the Hollywood Pantages (FB) through March 12. The original production opened on Broadway in March 2015, closing in August 2016 after 565 performances — a respectable run. I discovered the production through the cast album, which I found enjoyable. The musical, with book by James Graham, and music and lyrics by Gary Barlow (FB) and Eliot Kennedy,  was based on the 2004 Miramax movie of the same name by David Magee and the play The Man Who Was Peter Pan by Allan Knee.

It is clear that the story of this boy that would never grow up, and his creation by J. M. Barrie, has fascinated people for generations (especially as the original story has gone in and out of copyright protection). It has spawned both prequel (Pan (2015)) and sequel (Hook (1991)) movies, as well as various reinterpretations and origin stories for the stage (Peter and the Starcatcher, Peter Pan: The Boy Who Hated Mothers), the latter being based on Barrie’s novel Peter and Wendy.

The version of the story on the stage at the Pantages, as in the movie, is a fictionalized version of the real story. There are a number of elements in common, but there is rearrangement of both the relationships and the timeline. One wonders if the fascination with the story is because society inherently distrusts any relationship of an adult man with boys not his own. I’d hazard a guess that this is a preoccupation of the modern era; it may have been more common and innocent in the past. In any case, that intimation of creepy relationships that I raised in some biographical descriptions of Barrie are not present in this musical; rather, it expands on the notion of Neverland coming from a rediscovery of the author’s imagination.

Before I go further into giving my thoughts on the piece, perhaps a plot summary is in order. Here’s the summary from Musical Heaven:

After a less than successful opening of his latest play Little Mary, J. M. Barrie meets widowed Sylvia and her sons in Kensington Gardens and they all soon develop a strong bond. J. M. Barrie proves to be a great friend and father figure to the boys, and his antics with the children quickly begin to inspire him to write a play about boys who never wish to grow up, with youngest son Peter provides particular inspiration. Soon, people begin to question his relationship with Sylvia, although it remains fiercely platonic. His wife Mary divorces him and Sylvia’s mother starts to object at the amount of time Barrie spends with the family. Sylvia becomes increasingly weak after an illness, but Barrie continues to play with the boys, taking the adventures they experience and turning them into Peter Pan. Presenting his idea to Producer Charles Frohman, Frohman reluctantly agrees to put on the play, despite believing that it will not appeal to his upper-class theatregoers. Barrie takes it on himself to disperse children from a local orphanage throughout the audience, which causes the surrounding adults to delight in the play. Proving a huge success, Peter Llewelyn Davies arrives to watch the show and realizes that it is about him and his brothers; George, Michael and Jack. Too ill to attend the theatre, Barrie puts on a production for Sylvia in her home, gathering the actors, props and musicians in her house. At the end, Peter Pan points to the doors to signify that she should go to Neverland. She takes the hand of her boys and walks into Neverland, implying her death. At Sylvia’s funeral, Barrie discovers that her will reads that he should take care of the Llewelyn Davies boys, which he is overjoyed at. Barrie and Peter form a bond unlike any other.

Reviews of the show that I read before seeing it criticized this plot, arguing that it had no antagonist. One gets the feeling that they were looking for a conventional theatrical structure: protagonists, antagonists, charm songs, 11 o’clock numbers, “I want” songs, and so forth. That’s not here. If there was any antagonist, it might have been Barrie against itself; however, more than anything, I think this was just an attempt to tell a story. Stories do not always have good guys and bad guys — sometimes they just are. This is especially true in an origin story about something well known. One knows the ending in advance — the question is how they got there.

Where I believe the critics did have a valid complaint is the music. The reviews I read called it pedestrian. I wouldn’t go that far. This is the first score from a team that had previously done pop music. The pop music can successfully develop musicals given the right coaching, guidance, and skill. Good examples of this Sir Elton John, Cyndi Lauper, and Sara Bareilles. But they can also go bad, as demonstrated by Paul Simon and Sting, both of whom had musicals that underwhelmed. The problem with much of the score in this show is that is sounded like pop music; they moved the story along but something was missing. This didn’t make them bad, mind you. They were more…. calculated for the pop ear, if I had to say anything. I think this is best exemplified by the fact that there is a companion album to the cast album that presents pop music stars performing these songs. There is one exception, however: the song “Play”, which is one of the ones very theatrical in its nature.

Irrespective of any story issues, the execution and presentation of the story were great (not surprising for a Broadway Equity tour). As directed by Diane Paulus, with choreography by Mia Michaels (FB), the characters come to life — in particular, the leads — with playfulness and movement as befits the story.

In the lead positions were Billy Harrigan Tighe (FB) as J. M. Barrie and Christine Dwyer (FB) as Sylvia Llewelyn Davis. Both gave great performances, with displays of the impishness and childishness needed for the characters. They also had very pleasant and strong singing voices — in particular, Dwyer at times reminded me of Allison Fraser with the touch of a really interesting vocal nuance to her voice. Tighe did a beautiful job on numbers such as “When Your Feet Don’t Touch The Ground”, with Dwyer excelling in numbers like “What You Mean to Me”.

As Charles Frohman, Barrie’s producer, Tom Hewitt was strong and very funny. He came into his own, however, when portraying Barrie’s alter-ego, Captain Hook. Playful and maniacal, he was just a joy to watch. In terms of singing, I found him very strong in songs such as “Circus of Your Mind”, “Hook”, and in particular, “Play”.

The Llewelyn Davies children are portrayed by multiple actors; the actors we saw at this performance are italicized: George – Finn Faulconer, Ben Krieger, Colin Wheeler; Peter – Ben Krieger, Colin Wheeler, Mitchell Wray; Jack: Tyler Patrick Hennessy, Colin Wheeler, Mitchell Wray; and Michael – Jordan Cole, Tyler Patrick Hennessy. All were cute and fun to watch and sang well. I was particularly impressed with them in the second act where one plays ukulele (and considering they rotate, this means that most play uke).

Although there was no formal bio in the program, stealing the hearts of the audience as Porthos was Sammy, in what appears to be his debut performance. Seriously, this dog was very cute and very well behaved — especially notable for his reaction to the other “dog” in the second act. Surprisingly, Sammy has an understudy, Bailey. Note: There is no connection to the other famous dog named Porthos.

Rounding out the cast in other smaller named roles and ensemble positions were: Karen Murphy [Mrs. du Maurier]; Christina Belinsky (FB) [Ensemble, Peter Pan u/s]; Cameron Bond (FB) [Ensemble, Mr. Turpin, Acting Troupe Captain Hook, u/s J. M. Barre]; Sarah Marie Charles (FB) [Ensemble, u/s Sylvia, u/s Mary]; Adrianne Chu (FB) [Ensemble, Acting Troupe Wendy]; Calvin L. Cooper (FB) [Ensemble]; Dwelvan David (FB) [Ensemble, Mr. Henshaw]; Nathan Duszny (FB) [Ensemble]; Victoria Huston-Elem (FB) [Ensemble; Miss Bassett, u/s Mrs. du Maurier]; Crystal Kellogg (FB) [Mary Barrie, u/s Sylvia]; Thomas Miller (FB) [Ensemble, Elliot]; Noah Plomgren (FB) [Ensemble, Lord Cannan, u/s J. M. Barrie]; Corey Rives (FB) [Ensemble, Albert]; Dee Tomasetta (FB) [Ensemble, Peter Pan]; Lael Van Keuren (FB) [Ensemble, Miss Jones, Emily, u/s Mrs. du Maurier, u/s Mary]; and Matt Wolpe (FB) [Ensemble, Mr. Cromer, u/s Frohman/Hook]. I particularly enjoyed Dwelvan David’s ensemble performance — very expressive. Somebody cast this guy as the Genie in Aladdin — he has the right look and fun. Swings were Melissa Hunter McCann (FB) [Swing]; Connor McRory (FB) [Swing]; and Matthew Quinn (FB) [Swing, u/s Frohman/Hook].

The music was under the direction of Ryan Cantwell (FB), with music supervision by Fred Lassen (FB) and Orchestrations by Simon Hale (FB). The orchestra consisted of Ryan Cantwell (FB) (Conductor / Keyboard), Valerie Gebert (FB) (Associate Conductor / Keyboard), Greg Germann (FB) (Drums), Laraine Kaizer (FB) (Violin), Ryan Claus/FB (Reeds), Sean Murphy (FB) (Bass), Nicholas Difabbio (FB) (Guitar), David Manning (FB) (Synth / Acoustic Guitar / Mandolin), Kathleen Robertson (FB) (Violin), Ken Wild (Bass / Electric Bass), John Yoakum (FB) (Flute / Piccolo / Clarinet / F# Wood Flute). The keyboard sub was David Witham (FB), and the orchestra contractor was Brian Miller. The orchestra had a good sound to it, but beware there is loads of bass at the end of Act I. The original music supervisor and dance and incidental music arranger was David Chase.

Lastly, the production creative team: The scenic design by Scott Pask was relatively simple with a framing scrim (that blocked the view from the side, but narrowed the stage to a standard size for the tour 😞 ). The bulk of the scenic aspects were provided by the projection design of Jon Driscoll. This worked with the lighting design of Kenneth Posner to create most of the magic. I was particularly taken by a scene in the second act that made wonderful use of shadow effects of the actors on stage created by a single white light projecting on the actors from upstage. Speaking of magic, the real magic in this show came from the illusions of Paul Kieve, the air sculpture of Daniel Wurtzel, and the flying effects of Production Resource Group.  The effects these folks created near the finale are spectacular. The sound design by Jonathan Deans was reasonably good, but shows need to remember when booking the Pantages that all the lovely art deco flourishes in the auditorium, while great to look at, bounce the sound everywhere (and require special tuning). The costumes by Suttirat Anne Larlarb and the hair and makeup by Richard Mawbey looked good and worked well. Rounding out the production credits are: AnnMarie Milazzo – Vocal Designer; William Berloni – Animal Trainer; Stewart/Whitley – Casting; The Booking Group – Tour Booking; Mia Walker – Associate Director; Gregory Vander Ploeg – General Manager; Jose Solivan – Company Manager; Seth F. Barker – Production Stage Manager.

Finding Neverland continues at the Hollywood Pantages (FB) through March 12. Tickets are available through the Pantages website/box office; discount tickets may be available through Goldstar. Although this isn’t a perfect show, I found it quite enjoyable.

🎩 🎩 🎩

Ob. Disclaimer: I am not a trained theatre (or music) critic; I am, however, a regular theatre and music audience member. I’ve been attending live theatre and concerts in Los Angeles since 1972; I’ve been writing up my thoughts on theatre (and the shows I see) since 2004. I do not have theatre training (I’m a computer security specialist), but have learned a lot about theatre over my many years of attending theatre and talking to talented professionals. I pay for all my tickets unless otherwise noted. I am not compensated by anyone for doing these writeups in any way, shape, or form. I currently subscribe at Cabrillo Music Theatre (FB), the  Hollywood Pantages (FB), Actors Co-op (FB), the Chromolume Theatre (FB) in the West Adams district, and a mini-subscription at the Valley Performing Arts Center (VPAC) (FB). Through my theatre attendance I have made friends with cast, crew, and producers, but I do strive to not let those relationships color my writing (with one exception: when writing up children’s production, I focus on the positive — one gains nothing except bad karma by raking a child over the coals).  I believe in telling you about the shows I see to help you form your opinion; it is up to you to determine the weight you give my writeups.

Upcoming Shows: March quiets down a bit — at least as currently scheduled — with the MRJ Man of the Year dinner,  Fun Home at the Ahmanson Theatre (FB) at the beginning of the month, Martha, a one-woman play on the life of Martha Graham (a good preparation for our May VPAC show of her dance group), at the Whitefire Theatre (FB) in the middle, and An American in Paris at the Hollywood Pantages (FB) at the end of the month. April starts with Cats Paw at Actors Co-op (FB) and a concert with Tom Paxton and the DonJuans at McCabes Guitar Shop (FB) (shifting Cats Paws to an afternoon matinee that day). The next day brings the Colburn Orchestra at the Valley Performing Arts Center (VPAC) (FB). The next weekend is currently open (and will likely stay that way). Mid-April brings Doc Severinsen and his Big Band at Valley Performing Arts Center (VPAC) (FB) on April 13, followed by Animaniacs Live at the La Mirada Performing Arts Center (FB) over the weekend. That will be followed on the penultimate weekend of April with Sister Act at Cabrillo Music Theatre (FB). Lastly, looking to May, the schedule shows that it starts with My Bodyguard at the Hollywood Pantages (FB) the first weekend. It continues with Martha Graham Dance and American Music at the Valley Performing Arts Center (VPAC) (FB). The third weekend brings the last show of the Actors Co-op (FB) season, Lucky Stiff, at Actors Co-op (FB). May concludes with Hello Again at the Chromolume Theatre (FB). As for June? Three words: Hollywood Fringe Festival (FB). That, barring something spectacular cropping up, should be the first half of 2017.

As always, I’m keeping my eyes open for interesting productions mentioned on sites such as Better-Lemons, Musicals in LA, @ This Stage, Footlights, as well as productions I see on Goldstar, LA Stage Tix, Plays411 or that are sent to me by publicists or the venues themselves. Note: Lastly, want to know how to attend lots of live stuff affordably? Take a look at my post on How to attend Live Theatre on a Budget.

P.S.: The Hollywood Pantages (FB) announced their 2017-2018 season (which was the rest of 2018, after Hamilton took over the last 5 months of 2017) on February 7th. You can find my reaction to it here. The Ahmanson Theatre (FB) announcement was this week, and here’s what I thought of it.


Good Food, Bad Food, Healthy Food, Not

Let’s move away from the Trump posts for a bit, to something else that might make us feel good, or make us sick. Food. Glorious Food. Hot Sausage and Mustard. I’d go on, but I’d walk into a copyright lawsuit…

  • Getting Glazed. I have a friend of mine who posts this incredible porn on Facebook, uhh, I mean food porn of these incredible meals that he and his daughter prepare. One such meal was a maple-glazed salmon. So when I saw this recipe for a Maple-Dijon Glaze for Salmon, I just had to save it for future reference.
  • Turning Yellow. Turmeric is an amazing substance. It can have incredible anti-inflammatory effects, and can bring significant relief for arthritis sufferers (by the way, so can cactus, especially tuna roja juice). So when I saw that the LA Times had a whole article devoted to Turmeric, again, I had to save it for future reference.
  • Buttering You Up. When it comes to fats, the choice is wide and varied, and we often don’t pick the best. Olive oil is wonderful, but butter can add a great flavor to things. Did you ever wonder who first came up with the idea for butter? NPR did, and they recently posted a very interesting history of butter.
  • UnGlutenAted. There are those who avoid gluten out as the fad-diet-of-the-week, and those who are gluten-free for other, more serious reasons. Here’s a fascinating article on the completion of a first phase 1b trial of Nexvax2, a biologic drug designed to protect celiac sufferers from the effects of exposure to gluten and the gastrointestinal symptoms that can result such as diarrhea, abdominal pain and bloating. The big idea behind this drug is to use a trio of three peptides as an immunotherapy that it hopes will encourage the T cells involved in the inflammatory reaction in celiac disease to become tolerant to gluten. After a first course to induce tolerance, the company hopes that it can be maintained by periodic re-injection with the vaccine.
  • Allergic to Meat. The  other day, we listened to a fascinating episode of The Sporkful, a podcast not for foodies, but for eaters. The episode we listened to was about a woman who loved meat, but suddenly was deathly allergic to it. The culprit was a sudden allergy to a sugar that was found in all animal products, and what triggered that allergy was even more fascinating. Well worth listening to.
  • Allergic to Modern Society. In a larger sense, however, we may increasingly be dealing with allergies and reactions to modern society. Spending large amounts of time indoors under artificial light and staring at computer screens has helped produce a “myopia epidemic” with as many as 90 per cent of people in some parts of the world needing glasses. Industrial food production has also turned primates’ taste for sugar — which evolved to persuade us to gorge on healthy fruit when it was ripe — into one of the main causes of the soaring rates of obesity in the Western world. And our sense of smell is under attack from air pollution, producing an array of different effects, including depression and anxiety.  In addition to what is discussed in the article, I’ll opine that many more problems (I believe) arise from the damage we’ve done to our internal biomes through germ-o-phobia and overuse of antibiotics, and that this eventually will be discovered to be responsible for many of our immunity-compromised diseases, food sensitivity, obesity, addiction, and yes, even the increase in autism spectrum disorder and similar issues (i.e., not vaccines).



Offensive People: They Make America Stronger

Back in early 2016, while the movie about her libel trial was in production, Dr. Deborah Lipstadt participated in a debate at Oxford University about whether the act of Holocaust Denial — that is, saying that the Holocaust never happened — should be against the law. You might find it surprising that her position was that it SHOULD NOT be criminalized. Her reasons? Here is what she said: “I am convinced that freedom of speech means nothing unless it includes the freedom for offensive people to be offensive.  We who are offended by them, must accept that, as a cost of living in a free society.”

Read that again: “Freedom of speech means nothing unless it includes the freedom for offensive people to be offensive.” This bedrock principle of America is why the ACLU defended the right of Nazis to march in Skokie. It is why Breitbart News is an important part of the landscape, but it is also why left-learning and neutral news sites are also an important part of the landscape. Freedom of Speech, and Freedom of the Press, are cornerstones of what makes America great, of what keeps American politicians accountable to the American people, and ultimately, what keeps the people at the top of the national power structure.

It is something that Donald Trump has forgotten. In a post yesterday on Facebook, Trump wrote that he is fulfilling the promise of promoting “our values”. And what are these values? He talks about allegiance to America. He says, “We all salute the same American Flag. And we are all made equal by the same Almighty God”. But he does not mention the Constitution — the ultimate, founding definition of American Values. Values that, for America, take priority over the Bible. This is no small testimony to the wisdom and foresight of the Founding Fathers. Unlike the Declaration of Independence, the United States Constitution contains no reference to God.

Offensive people being offensive. We see this every day in the era of Trump. Yet it is something that Trump does not want to see. It was manipulation of the media and fake news that created the outrage against Hillary Clinton and the Democratic Agenda that cemented his election — and it was something that he supported, used, and encouraged. Now that he is in office, this manipulative news is the only news he wants to see. More importantly, it is the only news he wants THE PEOPLE to see. He wants to suppress investigative journalism into what his administration is really doing, and is arguing that such media is “fake news”, the product of “illegal leaks”. He is going so far as to publicly attack journalists as “enemies of the people” (such an ominous phase) and to bar selected news outfits — including not only American media but the BBC and the Guardian — from meetings with the Press Secretary. There has only been one time where, in my memory, an American President has been this hostile to the media. Most Americans won’t remember it; I wasn’t barely in my teens when it happened. It was when President Nixon attempted to cover up his direct involvement in the Watergate Breakin.

What is President Trump trying to hide? What is he trying to divert and distract us from seeing? It could be his collusion with Russia over the election, although Congressman Darryl Issa (R-California) is working to get a special prosecutor to investigate just that. More importantly, however, it could be to divert our attention from the fact that the President is actively working to dismantle the American Government.

That’s right: His advisor Steve Bannon said so directly: Bannon framed much of Trump’s agenda with the phrase, “deconstruction of the administrative state,” meaning the system of taxes, regulations and trade pacts that the president says have stymied economic growth and infringed upon U.S. sovereignty. But in doing so, he is also deconstructing the system that ensures equality and non-discrmination under the law; that ensures safe food, water, and drugs; that ensures a clean environment in which to live; that ensures that our leaders are ethical, honest, and working for the people. In doing so, he is building a system where reporting government abuse of the Constitution and violation of the law is viewed as a problem for the government, not whistleblowing protecting the people.

Pretty offensive, right?

But just as in America it is vital that we have the ability to hear the offensive lies that President Trump and his supporters promote, it is vital that President Trump, and his supporters, and all the American people hear the offensive truth that the media investigates, sees, and reports. This reporting comes not only from American media sources such as the television networks, the major city papers, and long-time journalist outlets, but from the foreign media such as the BBC.

Occasionally being offended is the price we pay for living in the freest society on the planet. Those who work against such offense are working against American values.

In a few weeks, Jews all over the world will be celebrating Purim. It is an interesting holiday. It is not in the Torah at all; it is defined in a story called the Megillah, which you know as the Book of Esther. The story is remarkable because it makes no mention of God — just like the Constitution. It tells the story of an advisor to the King that hated the Jews, and wanted to see them all destroyed to make him, and his values, more powerful. Sound familiar? It is also the story of how a man of the people and from the people spoke truth to power, and not only saved his people but restored the nation to their values. Speaking truth to power — even when it is uncomfortable to do so, even when there is significant risk in doing so — that is what our Free Press does.

It is what men such as Hamen — the real enemies of our people — hate and despise and want to suppress, for speaking truth to power will deprive them of their power.

Now think about this: Who is the power that has the President, his advisors, and the GOP leadership shaking in their boots? Who is the power to whom the Press is speaking? The People. It is the People — you and me and Democrats and Republicans and Independents — who have the power to vote their asses out of power, to remove the power of their party and ideas at the state and local level. It is we the People that have the power to replace them with people from all across the political spectrum — liberals to conservatives, non-religious to religious — who respect and treasure the Constitution, and who realize that in our system of government, it is finding the point of compromise that is key, and compromise only comes from all sides both talking and listening.

All of this, just from putting up with offensive people.


Is Trump Really Reflecting Conservative Values?

userpic=divided-nationAccording to the LA Times, President Trump is conquering conservatives at CPAC. They state that his dominance at the forum, the Conservative Political Action Conference, is hard to miss. Even those who do not agree with all of Trump’s ideas seemed pleased with the excitement in the halls of the waterfront convention center outside Washington. And they believed he was winning over the conservative movement, even if Trump has historically low popularity ratings with the wider public.

So, here’s my question: Do Conservatives really believe that:

  1. We should deny anyone the right to an attorney and the ability to defend themselves when faced with deportation?
  2. We should permit public officials to personally profit — beyond their legal salaries — from their public office?
  3. We should permit states to have the right to dictate where people can go to the bathroom, but not what they can do recreationally, even when the people have voted to permit a particular behavior?
  4. The right to practice my religion can interfere with your right to practice your religion (and vice-versa)?
  5. The government has the right to impose one religion’s beliefs on someone else?
  6. The government should take away rights and privileges that have been granted to US citizens?
  7. The government should not treat all people equally, and ensure freedom from discrimination based on skin color, sex, religion, or any other factor that has been used to discriminate?
  8. The government does not have an interest in ensuring the citizens of the United States have clean air to breath, clean water to drink, and clean soil in which to grow crops?
  9. The government does not have in interest in ensuring that medicine distributed in the US is safe and effective, and that food is safe to eat?
  10. Use of nuclear energy should be permitted everywhere, without suitable oversight?
  11. When Federal tax dollars are distributed to educational institutions, that those funds must be used within the bounds of what is legal under the Constitution?
  12. The government does not have an interest to ensure that workers are safe, get paid on time, and are not taken advantage of by large employers?
  13. The government does not have an interest in ensuring infrastructure and public spaces exist that benefits the nation, and that might not be profitably operated by a private concern?
  14. The individual states should not work together for their mutual benefit?
  15. A free press is the enemy of the people, and we should restrict the press to only agree with the government?
  16. Some people are inferior to other people?
  17. People cannot speak out when they disagree with what the government is doing?
  18. Standards for ethics and integral behavior are different depending on the political party of a public servant?
  19. It is acceptable for a foreign government to provide things of financial value to actually or potentially influence the behavior of a public servant?
  20. Is it reasonable to allow anonymous whistleblowers of government abuse, as long as facts are confirmed independently before any prosecution?

If you believe in one or more of these, please let me know which ones and a strong rationale of why you hold that opinion.


Thoughts on a Theatre Season: The Ahmanson Theatre

Just before Christmas 2016, I attempted to predict what shows would be presented in the next Pantages and Ahmanson seasons. At the beginning of February, the Pantages made their announcement about their 2017-2018 season (or at least what is left of it after Hamilton presents), and I gave my thoughts on it and assessed my predictions. Today, the Ahmanson Theatre (FB) gave a rough announcement of their season (with more details in the Playbill version), so let’s see what I think and how I did.

☛ 🎱 ☚

Back in December, I summarized the shows that I thought were going on tour based on the announcements that I had seen, and I predicted the following:

There are numerous other shows currently coming to Broadway that I expect to tour, but I think they would be 2018-2019 at best. So how do I predict the seasons to work out? Here are my predictions:

  • Ahmanson 2017-2018 Season: Deaf West’s Spring Awakening, The Humans, Something Rotten, Waitress, and possibly the Fiddler revival, Allegiance, or a pre-Broadway musical.
  • Pantages 2017-2018 Season: Disney’s Aladdin, School of Rock, Love Never Dies, Bright Star, Matilda, Miss Saigon, Les Miserables, Color Purple, and possibly On Your Feet.

☛ 🎱 ☚

So how did I do? The Pantages announced a six show season. Five of the six were on my Pantages list, one was on my Ahmanson list: Aladdin, School of Rock, Love Never Dies, The Color Purple, On Your Feet, and Waitress. So lets see how I did for the Ahmanson, based on what the Times has as their announcement:

  • Matthew Bourne’s The Red Shoes. September 15 – October 1, 2017.  An American premiere. Based on the Hans Christian Andersen tale that was adapted into the 1948 film and best picture Oscar nominee of the same name, “The Red Shoes” will be Bourne’s ninth project to come to the Ahmanson. Not on my list at all. I’m not a big ballet fan, nor a fan of Matthew Bourne.
  • Bright Star. October 11–November 19, 2017.  The folksy Steve Martin and Edie Brickell musical. I predicted this for the Pantages, but it balances Waitress which I predicted for the Ahmanson. This is something I want to see.
  • Something Rotten! November 21–December 31, 2017. The witty, giddy backstage crowd-pleaser set in Shakespeare’s time earned 10 Tony nominations in 2015, including best musical. Predicted for the Ahmanson. This is something I want to see.
  • Soft Power. May 3–June 10, 2018. A world premiere David Henry Hwang that work takes the form of a Chinese musical about present-day America. Originally commissioned for the Mark Taper Forum. Jeanine Tesori will join the creative team for this production, which starts as a contemporary play and time-shifts into a musical 100 years in the future.  I predicted a pre-Broadway musical. This may be it. Unsure based on the subject, but Tesori’s involvement makes it interesting.
  • The Humans. June 19–July 29, 2018. Stephen Karam’s one-act that won four Tony Awards last year including best play. I correctly predicted this for the Ahmanson. Not sure yet if I want to see it.

One production will be announced later (obviously, in the January 1, 2018 through April 30, 2018 time period, although that period could easily support two shows — so why it is dark for so long is unknown and uncharacteristic of the Ahmanson. I am disappointed that the Ahmanson is not mounting Allegiance, but perhaps they are in negotiation for the TBA slot. Spring Awakening is less likely for that slot, given it was at the Wallis Annenberg just before Broadway.